The Orlando Magic rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit against the Boston Celtics on Sunday and led by as many as seven points in the fourth quarter, only to watch as Boston made a comeback of its own and eventually earned a six-point win in overtime. Sunday's marked the second consecutive close game for the rebuilding Magic, which escaped with a four-point win in regulation Friday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vučević were conspicuous in their absence down the stretch against Boston. That veteran two-guard J.J. Redick took Harkless' minutes shouldn't be a surprise, as Orlando's sixth man is too talented to sideline in crunch time, and it doesn't hurt the Magic to play him and Arron Afflalo, the starting shooting guard, side-by-side. But Vučević's disappearance is a bit more surprising: the second-year center did close out Friday's win.
But given Vučević's struggles against Boston's physical frontline of Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett--he finished with just six points and three rebounds--it's easy to understand why coach Jacque Vaughn played Josh McRoberts at power forward the entire fourth quarter and overtime, moving Glen Davis to center. McRoberts finished with game-highs in rebounding (14) and blocked shots (three) and did not shrink from the challenges Bass and Garnett presented.
It would appear, then, that Vaughn's rotation is a meritocracy: Vučević played well Friday, so he got to close the game out. He didn't play as well Sunday, and his backup was excelling, so he sat.
There isn't an institutional directive, in other words, for Vaughn to play guys like Harkless and Vučević heavy minutes for the sake of player development. The goal is to win games. Ordinarily, fans would applaud this attitude, but one gets the sense that some Magic supporters would rather see Vaughn throw Harkless, Vučević, and rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson in the deep end, so to speak. If Orlando loses as a result of its youngsters playing too much, these fans argue, that's even better, because losses help the Magic's chances at earning a high draft pick in 2013, one which may net a franchise player.
How would you like to see Vaughn allocate his minutes in crunch time?