Orlando Magic still need to learn how to go for the kill

The Orlando Magic held on to defeat the Detroit Pistons on Saturday and made plenty of winning plays to secure the win. But it should never have gotten there after a lifeless fourth-quarter showing on offense.
The Orlando Magic gutted out a win over the Detroit Pistons. But getting there was a struggle with a downturn in the fourth quater.
The Orlando Magic gutted out a win over the Detroit Pistons. But getting there was a struggle with a downturn in the fourth quater. / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic had already seen their 11-point lead collapse as the clock wound down in Detroit on Saturday night. They were now scrambling to keep their lead. They needed their best players to step up.

Both Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero did that to help the Magic get a 112-109 win.

With 1:49 to play Franz Wagner did what he always does, deftly dancing through the lane for a layup over the tough defense. That gave the Magic a three-point lead and some breathing room.

But the game was in the balance. Wagner split a pair of free throws, leaving the door open for the Pistons to come back. When Paolo Banchero missed a pair of free throws, Cade Cunningham came storming through it to tie the game.

Every Magic fan knows what happened next. Banchero beat Duren to a spot, drew a foul, hit a tough jumper and won the game with 0.8 seconds left.

A win is a win is a win is a win. The question is how did it get to this point? How did the Magic let the Pistons hang around when they led by 11 points with 8:53 to play?

The Magic won the game. But the next phase in their development is to learn to put these games away.

Orlando has to go for the kill. Their offense went into a shell throughout the fourth quarter of that game as the team seemed more comfortable running out the clock than trying to put the game away.

The Pistons played well, but the Magic left the door wide open for a comeback with their passive play.

"A win is a win in this league," Jalen Suggs said after Saturday's game. "In the moment, as long as you get the win, that's all that matters. You continue to clean it up and work on things as we go on in the week. As long as you get the win in the moment, that's all that matters. We stuck together, we withstood their runs. We stayed poised compared to other times when other teams go on runs like that. That's where our growth is coming. Instead of losing these games, we come out on top."

There were plenty of moments of poise throughout Saturday's game. The Magic gave away their 10-point halftime lead and the lead for a bit but bounced back to rebuild that lead. They did so again late in the game.

This is the sign the Magic have matured and are more serious about winning. But good teams protect those leads and put games away -- especially against an eight-win Pistons team.

But the Orlando Magic, whether they were trying to manage the roster for the back-to-back Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks or whether the Detroit Pistons played well to give them a chance to win, have to learn to put these games away.

When it comes to a playoff series, letting a team hang around could be costly. The Magic have to be able to put these games away. And especially during this stretch with so many opponents with losing records upcoming on the schedule.

The problem Saturday night was the team went into a shell.

After going up 11 points in Saturday's game, the Magic had two shot clock violations the rest of the way. The team just slowed to a crawl and seemed content to let the clock wind down. Orlando had 15 field goal attempts (and seven makes) when shooting with 0-4 seconds remaining on the shot clock. They were 2 for 5 in the fourth quarter.

The Magic average 8.7 field goal attempts in the final four seconds of the shot clock for the season.

There was a legitimate slowdown in execution and this lack of aggression hurt the offense. Orlando had a 120.4 offensive rating for the game against Detroit. That dropped to 110.0 with a 120.0 defensive rating in the fourth quarter.

That just signifies how passive the Magic became late in the game.

"These guys, they found a way," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday's game. "It was not a pretty game. The flow of the game was not there the way we would like it to be. You have to give Detroit a ton of credit. They played hard, they played physical, they made shots. They were firing on all cylinders in a lot of ways. Our ability to keep our poise and get a game-winning shot is big for our group."

The game Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks was not much better.

Orlando's offense struggled in that game playing without Paolo Banchero and on the second night of a back-to-back. The team posted a 94.8 offensive rating in the game. The Magic were 1 for 8 on shots in the final four seconds of the shot clock, right at the team's season average.

The Magic in that game settled for a lot of threes, going 14 for 38 for the game. Orlando has averaged just 29.0 3-point attempts per game in the team's last 11 games where it has gone 8-3. There was a lot of settling for threes.

The Magic shot 3 for 7 in the restricted area and 3 for 13 in the third quarter when the Hawks outscored the Magic 38-19 and went on an 18-1 run that decided the game.

But the other issue was the Magic squandered another six-point halftime lead with an 8-1 run off the jump. They had several opportunities to grow the lead to double digits and they could not get over that hump to build a bigger cushion when fatigue might set in later.

Orlando knows it has to be aggressive and get downhill to the basket to be successful offensively. That has helped boost the team in the last 11 games as things have started to get right for this group.

That is what felt disappointing about how the Magic played at the end of Saturday's game in Detroit and what stood out about how passive the team played in Sunday's loss to Atlanta (the Magic were 21 for 42 in the paint for a relatively low 42 points).

It just suggests the Magic were playing passively. The team was moving too slowly and initiating the offense too late to score effectively. They were not playing with pace or aggressiveness. And that cost the team a lot, even though they split the weekend series.

The Magic have to go for the kill. They can find a way to win these games -- and that is the most important thing -- but they have to put these games away too.

Next. Soft Schedule 02.25.24. Orlando Magic must take advantage of softening schedule. dark

The team has shown a lot of poise and composure this year. It is part of the team's growing maturity. There is still another level they have to reach.