Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley always reminds everyone that a game is not decided in its final moments. It is not decided on a final play. It is always the plays that lead up to it.
Still, a final play and making that play to get the result -- ultimately the only thing that matters -- can make even a bad game feel better. And with Paolo Banchero again proving he can be a significant player and clutch finisher, it only highlights how tantalizingly close the Magic's future is and can be.
But that future seems still far off. It feels less certain to happen. That is what a loss like Friday's defeat in Memphis can do.
Perhaps if Joe Ingles hits his potential game-winning three after Paolo Banchero successfully drew in the defender with 4.8 seconds left to kick out to the open 41.0-percent 3-point shooter for the win, we would be singing a different tune. The narrative of this game would be different, perhaps dedicated to Banchero's heroic 12 points in the fourth quarter (of 27 total) in a gutsy win snatched from the jaws of defeat.
Instead, the Magic are asking themselves a lot of questions. And the urgency of those questions is only rising. Even at this stage of the season, there are some fundamental problems to answer.
"At the end of the day, we continue to say, it's not about that three," Mosley said after Friday's game. "It's about the prior possession in the game earlier. The empty possessions of turnovers, the free throws, the things that we work on and continue to get better at. And understand those are the possessions that matter in a game like this."
Those questions boil down to specific things from Friday's game, like: How did they let an undermanned Memphis Grizzlies team outwork and outmuscle them? How did they lose track of shooters to give up 12 first-half 3-pointers? How did they not find the offense and shots to take advantage of stellar defense in the second half?
And then there are the bigger questions that need answering too.
Why are these still the questions being asked midway through the season? Where did that team that went 14-5 to start the season go?
The realities after a 107-106 defeat to the Grizzlies at FedExForum are that the Magic let another game slip away.
They let it slip away with another eight missed free throws -- going 21 for 29 from the line including late misses from Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter. They let it slip away with that poor defense in the first half. They let it slip away with five third-quarter turnovers with a chance to regain control over the lead.
The Magic are struggling to find their groove again and the losses continue to pile up.
"I think we've just got to come together as much as we can, pick up the communication, pick up the intensity, and get back to being together as a group," Paolo Banchero said after Friday's game. "We've got to fight through [the grind of the season], push through it, come together as a group, and be there for each other and have each other's back. I think we did today, which is why we came back. We just waited too long. We'll be all right, we've just got to stick together and raise the level of intensity."
And so there is another cold reality to think about.
Since the Magic's 14-5 start that ended with a nine-game win streak, they are 9-17. That is a 28-win pace over an 82-game season. And that is more than a quarter of the season gone by.
Maybe it took a loss to a bad team to make this feel more crystallized, but the Magic have many questions to ask themselves. And they are struggling to find their answers.
The Magic have to ask themselves how much of these losses are coming because these opponents are that much better than them or if it is something the Magic are doing. How much are the Magic leaving opportunities on the board to pick up wins? What more can they do?
And, maybe, the more significant and critical question: Is this an issue the Magic can resolve internally, or has this team hit a wall requiring some change?
Shooting continues to be a problem. Even with the Magic scrambling and defending well in the second half -- giving up 39 points in the second half total -- they could not hit shots when they needed to break through, or they turned the ball over when they had chances to get out in transition and take control of the game.
Orlando's shooting problems are well-documented at this point. They are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league -- and maybe still the worst jump-shooting team overall. Another 9-for-34 performance from deep marks the 14th game the team has shot worse than 30 percent from three.
Even though the Magic cleaned up their 3-point defense in the second half, they were playing uphill. And that meant the team needed to hit some shots.
Banchero was 2 for 9 from three overall, including two big misses when the Magic were down two with about 2:20 to play. It was another missed opportunity to climb back into the game, among many throughout the contest.
Whenever the Magic make their next move, they need a shooter. They may also need someone to settle the team down to create the poise the team appears to lack right now.
There is a lot for this team to learn. And the Magic are still focused on the big picture and growing and developing. But something is missing in the short term that is costing the team games. They are struggling to find their answers.
"The key is to stay together," Jonathan Isaac said after Friday's loss. "It's a tough part of the season for us. It's easy, especially if you drop a few games that you feel you should [win], to splinter and just kind of go off and start to hang your heads. This is a great team. We're going to find a way to pull together. We are going to pull together."
Still, there is a lot on the line in the present for this Magic team. They missed an opportunity to tie the Miami Heat for seventh in the East standings. And they fell 2.5 games back of the Indiana Pacers for sixth to avoid the Play-In entirely.
Just like how Orlando missed opportunities to take control of the game, the team failed to seize this chance to close the gap in the standings.
That might be the most frustrating thing for the Magic right now. They know they are good enough. They know they are capable.
Nothing should dim the team's bright future. Banchero looks like a true star in the making and this game should not dispel that notion. There is still a lot of talent to build around. And, even with the trade deadline coming up, the team's needs are obvious and correctible. This was never the roster that was going to win a championship.
One game should not derail an entire season.
But the team should be beyond games like they have had in the last two outings. Coming off an embarrassing 27-point loss at home and the worst defensive effort of the season, the Magic should have expected a more mature effort.
And that is what the team has to be working toward -- maturity. They may have to reach the conclusion that what they need is not internal and make the move to pull this team together for the short- and long-term.