After one quarter on Sunday, the Orlando Magic found themselves trailing the Toronto Raptors by a 32-22 margin. Toronto shot 54.7 percent from the field, hit four of their five three-point tries, and owned a 10-7 advantage on the boards. Orlando fought back throughout the game and led by as many as three points late in the third quarter, but it wasn't enough as the Raptors took command of the fourth for a 97-86 win.
Such slow starts are nothing new for Orlando under coach Jacque Vaughn, who's concerned with his team's poor performances in the first quarter. "It started more so at the tip of the game today," Vaughn said following Sunday's loss, according to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. "We needed a better focus and concentration level from the first play of the game [....] We had to play comeback basketball and when that happens you have to speed yourself up and sometimes you have turnovers and you don’t have the focus on defense. It all works hand-in-hand."
The players are at a loss to explain the phenomenon. "I don’t know why we have to get down to get it going," said forward Glen Davis, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday, but who went scoreless with one rebound in the first quarter. "We’ve got to find a way. Somebody has to step up."
In a season in which opponents have outscored them by 51 points, Orlando is a minus-45 in nine first quarters. It's tough for any team to win consistently when it spots its opponent a five-point advantage after one period.
What's distressing for the Magic is that their opponents aren't dominant in any one category in opening periods, but rather are dominant across the board. Magic opponents have shot 51 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from three-point range in first quarters, and have outrebounded Orlando, 100-89. The Magic, in contrast, are shooting just 41.6 percent from the floor overall, due largely to shooting 31 percent on nearly 10 long two-point attempts per first quarter.
And the problem is consistent: since winning the first quarter in their season-opening romp against the Denver Nuggets, Orlando has lost eight of its last nine first quarters. Changing the starting lineup, as injuries have forced Vaughn to do, has not addressed the issue.