Orlando Magic's frustrating Game 7 doesn't take away from stellar season

The Orlando Magic's special season ended with a thud in a frustrating Game 7 defeat. It still does not take away from what they accomplished this season.
A Game 7 win proved to be just outside the Orlando Magic's grasp as they fell short despite an early lead to the Cleveland Cavlaiers.
A Game 7 win proved to be just outside the Orlando Magic's grasp as they fell short despite an early lead to the Cleveland Cavlaiers. / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Final. 94. 38. Magic Cavs Game 7 Final 05.05.24. 106. 156

The weight of Game 7 was on the faces of everyone with the Orlando Magic as the second half wound up.

The Orlando Magic's 18-point lead and blistering start were long gone. The team had given away some momentum to end the second quarter and then got blitzed in the third. Every missed shot seemed to turn into a runout, Donovan Mitchell was putting the defense on pinwheels as he attacked the rim repeatedly. The Magic could not stop the bleeding.

There was no relief for them. And a season that was so special and magical ended with a disheartening thud. The kind of thud that makes everyone question everything without the perspective that a whole season requires.

There was a lot of soul-searching and, yes, a few tears in the Orlando Magic locker room following a 106-94 defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 on Sunday afternoon. For as much fun and joy as this season created, its ending "sucked." That was the choice word throughout the roster.

The team's future is bright and everyone understands where they grew and learned this season. But Sunday? The feeling after Sunday's game just sucked. There was no other way around it.

"You tell the truth. We've told each other the truth all year long," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Game 7. "I walked into the locker room and I said it sucks. It does suck to get the game knowing what you are capable of doing, to be up 18 and feel you were in a space to close out and to not get it done. It doesn't feel good.

"And in the same breath, you have to put it all into perspective. Sometimes these painful things are blessings in disguise. Now, guys understand how we have to work throughout the summer. The attention to detail, the focus in the gameplan. All of those things matter. You have to experience it and feel it in real-time. Because like we have done all year, we reflect back on what is going to help us become better."

Orlando showed the best and worst versions of itself in this decisive game.

The Magic came out to a blistering pace, winning the first quarter 24-18 and shooting 4 for 9 from three. More than that, their defense was suffocating, holding the Cavs to less than 30 percent shooting and without a three-point make in seven tries.

They kept that going into the second quarter as Paolo Banchero turned in 24 points. Things were seemingly easy for the Magic. But they still could not keep expanding their lead and a late 12-4 run cut the deficit to 10 at the half.

Everyone knew the first moments of the third quarter would decide the game.

The Cavs seized that moment, winning the third quarter 33-15. The Magic lost the second half 63-41 as they struggled to keep the Cavs off the foul line (17 for 21), disrupting their defensive flow, and simply could not hit a shot.

Orlando made only 11 of 43 shots (25.6 percent) in the second half and just 3 of 15 3-pointers. Even the scorching Banchero cooled off to score 14 points on 4-for-15 shooting in the second half.

There was simply no relief as turnovers added to Cleveland's ability to get out in transition. The Magic reverted to a stagnant offense that relied on Banchero's isolations. He could not lift the team as the ball stopped moving. There was no one else able to score with Franz Wagner shooting 1 for 15 and Jalen Suggs shooting 2 for 13.

The Magic's key players were so big in Game 6 to deliver a big victory and force this decisive game came up short when the team needed it. That is how things go sometimes. That is how the ball bounced Sunday.

"The first time through anything is always going to be tough," Suggs said after Game 7. "It's always going to be a bit difficult until you have the experience, the knowledge, the wherewithal to continue to move through things. I just think it helps you find comfort when you go through it a second and third time. Just continue to learn from it, go back and watch it at some point, try to appreciate everything not only this series and this game has taught me."

That was still the driving message for this team. They got their first playoff experience and proved a lot in the process. There was a lot to be proud of that one game does not erase.

As disappointing as it is not to be preparing for a game Tuesday, the team still accomplished a lot. It still got to this point. It still previewed what the team's future will be sooner than later.

The Magic made a statement of arrival in their playoff series. That is no solace on Sunday. There is finality now that the season is over.

The team will face questions in the offseason and improvement will not merely come from individual players getting better. There will need to be some external injections to get over the hump.

But this team saw what it is capable of throughout its seven-game series and throughout this season. Orlando took the loss Sunday as a bitter pill. But the team understands this is not the end of its run.

"Throughout the course of this series, after those first two games everyone was looking at us like I don't know if there are ready," Banchero said after Game 7. "For us to take this to seven and have a great first half and have them have to fight for every inch to get back in and end up beating us shows where we're headed, shows what we're able to do and just this year by itself is really encouraging for everybody. We're really going to build off this."

Still, Sunday was hard to deal with. The season is over. The team will have to start over again in the fall. It is too early to speculate or imagine what changes will come or how players will be for the 2025 season.

There is still the deep wound and pain of a playoff series loss to tend to. That it hurts so much is a sign of how far this team has come. That such a strong season ends in bitter disappointment is a sign of what is still possible.

"This sucks to lose a Game 7," Mosley said after Game 7. "To be in the position to win the game and let go of it a bit. But you have to keep it in perspective of a group of young men who have continued to learn and grow and get better and trust each other and find ways to fight and stay together in the midst of hard games, hard times. That is very rare for a young group to do and they did it all year. I could not be more proud of them."

The talk of the future and what comes next for this group will be better left for tomorrow. The lights in the AdventHealth Training Center will dim for the next four months (they will still be on, knowing this group).

The emotion of a rough Sunday deserves to be felt.

The Magic will be back soon. They will face new expectations and a new standard now that they have done this. Orlando will have to learn how to do this again.

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As bright as the season was, it ended with a thud. It ended in disappointment. It ended in a way that will give the team something to be hungry for next year.