Jacksonville Sports Day

NBA: Magic’s Season Comes to an End After Game 5 Loss

Photo Courtesy Orlando Magic

TORONTO – In the eyes of most players, coaches and front-office executives affiliated with the Orlando Magic, the dominant memory from this season will be, not their unceremonious exit from the playoffs, but instead the stirring late-season run executed to get there.

Assuredly, the Magic will do their best to try and forget a first-round playoff series where they opened with a Game 1 win but proceeded to drop the next four games – capped by Tuesday’s unsightly 115-96 Game 5 loss to the Toronto Raptors that was decided painfully early in the night.

Still, the Magic would be wise to allow the painful and bitter feelings from this playoff ouster to simmer in their memory banks throughout the offseason. In the Raptors, the Magic saw firsthand a balanced and potent team that they need to try and pattern themselves after so as to be better equipped come their next playoff run.

“For the teams that win (championships and playoff series), they’re usually top 10 in offense and defense, and that’s what they are,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of the second-seeded Raptors. “They can play both ends of the floor at a high level. … By and large, to win it all, you have to have the kind of balance that (the Raptors) play with.’’

While the star-studded and deep Raptors just might go on to do that, the Magic close the 30th season in franchise history with a great deal of promise going forward. Once 21-30 in late January, the Magic reeled off an exhilarating 22-9 closing kick to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2012. Orlando won its final nine games at the Amway Center and many of the team’s 11 fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victories came during the late playoff push.

“I think that speaks more to your roster and the kind of guys that you have on your team,’’ Clifford said. “We fought hard and I mean, we played our way in (the playoffs). I haven’t thought about it beyond that. What everybody does in our jobs is you evaluate at the end, but that’s for a couple of weeks down the road.’’

The immediate evaluations would be that the Magic need far more two-way players than they currently possess. Orlando’s offense struggled badly against Toronto’s long and lengthy defense, regularly failing to crack 40 percent from the field. Those offensive woes were only worsened by the continual struggles of center Nikola Vucevic and guard Terrence Ross – Orlando’s two most lethal offensive weapons all season and two players who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

Vucevic was out of the game after five minutes with three fouls and he finished his finest season in the NBA in an uncharacteristically poor effort with just six points and seven rebounds. In the five games of the series, Vucevic – who posted career highs in scoring (20.8) and rebounding (12) and assists (3.8) – averaged just 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 36.2 percent shooting from the floor and 23.1 percent accuracy from 3-point range.

Game 1 hero D.J. Augustin, who had 25 points in the opener and 24 points in the next three games, finished with 15 points for a Magic team that shot just 38.6 percent from the floor and just nine-of-34 accuracy on 3-point shots. Ross, who became the first player in NBA history to make at least 200 3-pointers in a season without starting a game, had 12 points on Tuesday, while Aaron Gordon added 11.

Toronto got another 27 points from superstar forward Kawhi Leonard, who drilled eight of 11 shots and connected on all five of his 3-point shots and all six free throws. For the series, Leonard gashed the Magic for 27.8 points per game on 55.5 percent shooting.

The seventh-seeded Magic won Game 1 of the series on a 3-point dagger by Augustin, but the second-seeded Raptors proceeded to dominate the next four games. Most frustrating for the Magic was losing Games 3 and 4 at the Amway Center and being unable to deliver a victory to their success-starved fans. Orlando had hopes of winning on Tuesday so as to get another shot at winning at home in a Game 6, but that was never a possibility following another disastrous opening to the game.

Evan Fournier, a veteran of five seasons in Orlando, was visibly upset after losing the two games at home days earlier, saying: “It’s tough, man, because these fans have been waiting for these (playoff) games for so long and it’s really disappointing to not be able to give them a win. That’s a big reason why we want to come back (to Orlando) for a Game 6.’’

Much like Games 2 and 3 when they fell behind 11-0 and 10-0, the Magic found themselves trailing 12-1, 25-5 and 31-7 in the early going on Tuesday and by 20 at the half. That deficit swelled to as much as 31 points in the third quarter and by 37 early in the fourth, threatening the franchise’s all-time worst playoff loss (35 points on April 24, 1997 in Miami against the Heat).

The first half was about as disastrous as it possibly could have been for a Magic team that desperately needed things to go right. They missed their first five shots, were off on 10 of the first 11 and saw Vucevic pick up three fouls in less than six minutes. Incredibly, a Magic team that entered the playoffs as one of the NBA’s hottest teams fell behind by as much as 24 points in the first quarter and trailed 67-47 at the half.

Vucevic’s frustration-filled series came to a head early in Tuesday’s game. After he missed his fourth straight shot, Vucevic picked up his third foul in the game’s opening minutes on an offensive foul. That sent the team’s lone all-star from the past seven seasons to bench where he would log his first scoreless opening half of the season.

Orlando was once again a mess offensively, shooting just 38.5 percent from the floor, committing five offensive fouls and twice being hit with technical fouls after slamming the ball to the floor.

Toronto, meanwhile, carved Orlando up with its drive-and-kick offense. The Raptors shot 56.1 percent in the first half and drilled 10 of 19 3-pointers.

Leonard, who tortured the Magic all series on both ends of the floor, scored 14 points in the first half. Pascal Siakam, the likely winner of the Most Improved Player award, added 12 first-half points – nine more than his cover for the series, Jonathan Isaac (three first-half points). He finished with 24 points, while Isaac missed six of his seven shot attempts in the game.

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