The Orlando Magic led the Los Angeles Lakers by four at 100-96 with 3:22 left. This would mark the Magic’s first time playing a clutch situation this year. The first time the team would feel the pressure of needed into execute and win.
Every coach will tell you that games are not won or lost in clutch situations. Games are lost throughout each moment — like when the Magic took an eight-point lead late in the third quarter but could not expand or maintain that lead, giving up a 9-0 run to end the quarter.
But the reality is the Magic will be in a lot of situations like Monday night’s game. They are going to see a lot of close games. And whether this team makes the postseason or not may very well come down to their execution in these games.
So the Magic were still learning and discovering about themselves and where they need to go late in games.
The Orlando Magic are still figuring out who they are late in games. Their first clutch situation revealed they still have to find their pecking order and organization late to win.
The Lakers do not have any doubt about where they are going. The ball will be in LeBron James’ hands. He is directing everything and is an oncoming freight train the defense knows about and cannot stop.
James has the ability to slow everything down and direct traffic in these late-game situations, controlling the flow of the game and picking his spots. The Magic defense largely held up and gave them a chance to win, but James still got a lot of shots he wanted and the Lakers ended up winning 106-103, closing the game on 8-3 run.
The Magic? Their late-game execution left a lot to be desired. More than that, they did not have a clear vision or organization for where they want to go and who needs the ball in their hands. Short of that, they did not even run their regular sets.
This was a team begging for a closer and not really finding one. The team made some good plays but just could not get quality shots, execute the offense or make shots when they did.
Just look at the Magic’s possessions to close the game:
- Up 100-98, Markelle Fultz settled for a pull-up jumper with the defense crowded around him because of poor spacing as the Magic tried to wall off bigger defenders and create a path to the basket (Fultz, to his credit had six points in the fourth quarter and that was his only miss in the quarter)
- Markelle Fultz acted as a dummy on the next play driving toward the paint and leaving it off for Jalen Suggs, who hit a critical three.
- After D’Angelo Russell answered with a three (after the Magic had to double Anthony Davis and he skipped it to the weak side to Christian Wood who recorded the assist), Paolo Banchero tried driving into the defense, crashing into Anthony Davis but getting no call.
- After James missed a three, Fultz pushed the ball in transition and set up Banchero for an open three in the corner with the Magic down one. He missed a good look.
- Then came the final two sequences of the game. Jalen Suggs got the ball rotated to him with 20 seconds left after Markelle Fultz drove in to suck the defense in. Jalen Suggs made the right move and pump faked Austin Reaves closing out and drove into the lane. There he was met by Davis and unable to finish.
- With little time remaining, the Magic’s last ditch effort was a poor 3-pointer from Franz Wagner (the only plus shooter in the Magic’s starting lineup) that the Lakers successfully sniffed out. Suggs grabbed the rebound and circled back out to the 3-point line for a good look that would ultimately miss.
The Magic felt they got good looks late in the game — and they did — they just did not fall. It is indeed a make or miss league. Still something was off for the team as they sought the right way to attack the Lakers’ defense.
The Magic got plenty of good looks and kept themselves in the game. The Magic’s defense should continue to get credit for playing incredibly — the Lakers had a 107.1 offensive rating, although 119.0 in the fourth quarter.
"“I think we got a good chance,” Markelle Fultz said after Monday’s game. “We got a shot up and got a chance for an offensive rebound. Got another shot up. In my opinion we got a great shot, great looks. In my opinion, I feel like we took a good shot and had a good opportunity.”"
On the other hand, there was no real poise or clear direction.
Fultz was the player who was driving the bus but the Lakers were able to choke him off and the Magic, as they did throughout the game, seemed to be playing too fast and without the poise and maturity the team needs to have.
At the end of the day though, clutch play is truly about results. If Banchero makes his three or Suggs makes his three, the Magic are celebrating a win. Everyone is questioning what happened because the team lost and because the team did not maintain its lead entering the final minutes of the game.
Unlike the veteran Lakers, the Magic are still looking for their poise and their consistency in these late-game situations.
To some extent, the Magic were right to put the ball in Fultz’s hands and trusting him to make decisions. Last year, he scored 72 points in clutch situations (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes) on 26-for-44 shooting and a team-high 17 assists (against seven turnovers).
Fultz largely made the right plays in each moment late in Monday’s game. He took the one bad jumper, but drove to pass to an open Banchero or an open Suggs. The heart of the Magic’s whole offensive philosophy is this ability to share the ball and move the ball. There is no reason for Orlando to change that.
Still, it is clear the limits Fultz brings. The Lakers compressed the paint and were happy to let the Magic shoot from three. That might just be a fatal flaw with the starting lineup.
But there is a statement to be made that Orlando’s best players did not have the ball in their hands. Maybe this was not the game for them to do so considering their shooting struggles throughout the game.
This is part of the pecking order though. Trusting the star players to close the game and make these correct decisions too. It was part of the disorganization of the Magic’s first close game situation.
The problem perhaps is there was nowhere to go with the starters.
Orlando’s starters shot a combined 24 for 67 (35.8 percent) with Banchero and Wagner combining for 25 points on 9-for-31 shooting (29.0 percent). It is hard to win any game with that level of offensive futility — and a credit again to the Magic’s defense.
Mosley credited Banchero with still making winning plays and committing the team defensively and on the glass. But the team needs him to score and that is a drumbeat the team is undoubtedly missing.
The poor offense is becoming a bigger problem for the Magic in the early season — three games is still a really small sample size — than anything else. The Magic have not been able to extend their leads and put games away earlier in these two road games.
There is still a lot to learn and a lot to learn about this team.
"“I think our guys’ effort was there,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday’s game. “The intensity, the fight, the resiliency to go down and get back up and just continue that fight and what we’re asking of them. We knew what it was going to be in this environment with a team that just came off a tough loss last night. We knew we were going to get their best punch. For our guys to be able to sustain that was a good sign. Then it’s always going to come down to the details of what we need to do earlier in the game. It didn’t come down to the last couple of shots.”"
But the pressure of late-game situations is not going to go away. And the Magic need to know and be comfortable with what they are doing in these situations.
Orlando did not seem like it had that part down in this first experience against Los Angeles. It did not seem to know where to go. And it did not seem able to execute effectively.
The Lakers compressed the paint and dared the Magic to make threes. Whether the refs buried their whistles or not, the Magic struggled to get to the foul line all game and could only throw themselves into the teeth of the defense.
Orlando will have to adjust its decision-making and find its pecking order so everyone knows their roles and are able to execute late in games.