The Orlando Magic fell to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night as DeMar DeRozan hit a contested two-point jumper as time expired. The Magic certainly hoped the second half of their season would begin on a happier note.
Orlando used a small lineup, with four guards flanking power forward Glen Davis, to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. The lineup of Jameer Nelson, E'Twaun Moore, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, and Davis went on a 21-14 run to tie the score at 95 with 20.9 seconds remaining. To no one's surprise, coach Jacque Vaughn cited "matchups" as the reason for going small.
"They went small," Vaughn said, referring to the Raptors. "I could only have one big on the floor." As a result, Magic center Nikola Vucevic didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. The second-year player had 19 points and 14 boards through three periods.
"They had four shooters on the court and we wanted to match up with them, so that's what we did," Moore said. Afflalo agreed.
"A lot of NBA teams do it [go small]," he said. "Pick-and-roll basketball is a big part of the game right now, so with that in mind it's... to have shooters kinda standing around, the defense has to help and close back out to perimeter players instead of big men, so it's just a way to space the floor. Usually, late in the game, coaches like to have the floor spaced based on their personnel."
Counting Thursday's loss, the fivesome with which Orlando closed against Toronto has logged 12 minutes across three games all season. It's been successful, with Orlando scoring 146.2 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 88.4. Were it not for DeRozan's last-second shot, the Magic might have prevailed using that small-ball approach.
DeRozan's big buckets
But DeRozan did make the game-winning shot, and six other baskets in the fourth quarter. Orlando limited the former USC Trojan to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first three quarters, but DeRozan erupted in the fourth, scoring 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
The play that coach Dwane Casey drew up was meant to free DeRozan for a layup. "It was always for DeMar," Casey said, "for him to get an iso [isolation]. Run out of the iso, rip, and go to the basket."
"They went under [the screen]," said Toronto center Amir Johnson, "and Big Baby [Glen Davis] double-teamed and he made a hell of a fadeaway shot."
DeRozan's game-winner had the Magic shaking their heads. "Did you see the last two shots that he hit?" Redick asked one reporter, who had asked Redick if Orlando needed to adjust its defensive schemes. "There's no scheme. Our schemes are good."
"I think Glen and Arron were both there and... part of basketball," Vaughn said in assessing DeRozan's walk-off shot. His sentiment is one that Afflalo, and some of his teammates, echoed. "That's part of the game. I'll never believe that one play will decide the outcome of a game anyway."
Redick defended DeRozan on the basket he made to put the Raptors up two points with 38.3 seconds to go. He said he grazed the ball as DeRozan elevated to shoot off one foot while fading away... and DeRozan sank the shot anyway.
At least two celebrities took in Thursday's thrilling finish at Amway Center.
Australian recording artist Cody Simpson, who turned 16 on January 11th, had a courtside seat. Some fans in attendance screamed when the arena's game-operations crew showed him on the video scoreboard. His presence did not delight everyone in the building: Orlando Sentinel writer Josh Robbins wondered via Twitter who Simpson was and why he was obstructing Robbins' view.
In addition, golfer Ian Poulter watched the game from a suite in Amway Center's lower level. When the scoreboard showed him, he was seated in a cushy chair, holding a golf trophy in one hand and a cold beer in another.
That's a helluva way to watch a ballgame.