Another learning experience
For the young Orlando Magic, every game brings forth something new: a challenge to overcome, a situation for the team to be in. Sunday night against the Chicago Bulls followed a script they had seen far too often this season: Orlando fell big early but fought back with a chance to win the game late. Except this time, the Magic fought back with enough time to grab a six-point lead with less than a minute to go before things began to fall apart.
Victor Oladipo got a screen from Nikola Vucevic, drove, went to kick it out to Tobias Harris on the wing, only to have defensive stalwart Jimmy Butler jump in and intercept the pass. Harris fouled Butler in an attempt to keep the All-Star from getting an easy bucket, only it resulted in a horribly timed clear path foul, meaning the Bulls would get two free throws and the ball. Butler calmly drained the pair, cutting the lead to four. Then, a wide open three for former league MVP Derrick Rose fell swiftly through the net, cutting the once seemingly insurmountable lead to just one.
Following Rose's gut-wrenching three, a side inbound play turned ugly, as Evan Fournier's toe ever so slightly touched the mid-court line, warranting an over the back-and-back call. The air was slowly seeping out of the Magic's bubble. Rose drove the and missed, but Pau Gasol finished the play with a putback dunk to give the Bulls the lead.
But the Magic still had their chance. However Vucevic missed his shot and Harris' putback attempt fell short, and the Magic fell in crushing fashion.
Coach James Borrego said he told his team that winning "doesn't just happen." The interim coach also added that his team didn't execute well enough to win. He did say that he felt as though Vucevic got a good look on that final play, and that he had another option if he didn't like what he saw.
Following the game, Harris, who was coming off a career-high 34-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, took a lot of the blame for the loss.
"I take a lot of ownership on myself from this loss. I thought I shouldn't have fouled Jimmy Butler going to a clear path and obviously the tip-in at the end. And I missed a shot that should have went in."
Harris also talked about the message from Borrego, saying the 37-year-old coach told his team that the game was theirs and they just gave it away. "To win in this league you gotta step it up a notch in the last four minutes. You gotta make the right plays. Gotta make that tip-in shot, obviously. Game would be over and we'd be in here happy and celebrating. But just didn't go down that way. His message was just that was our game to win and we didn't win it. But we have another game tomorrow so we gotta get ready for it."
Oladipo said that it was a "tough" loss and that the team has to find a way to win, because they've been in plenty of situations like that already. The second-year guard also said that he can't be turning the ball over late in games like he did and that the team needs to win games late on the defensive end. Oladipo finished off by saying that the mentality of the team is "we all we got" right now.
The loss was a tough one for the young Magic team to swallow, but one that could be beneficial down the line. They did a lot of good things throughout the night on both ends of the floor, and just had the ball bounce the wrong way a few times late.
With the quick turnaround that the league offers, the team needs to find a way to gather itself and go and try to get a win against their division rival Washington Wizards Monday night.
Bench steps up
Down 32-16 after one quarter, things were looking bleak for the Magic. They were unable to get stops on the defensive end, and their offense was struggling to take care of the ball. Then, the bench unit entered and turned the game around seemingly in a heartbeat.
With Willie Green, Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Kyle O'Quinn and Dewayne Dedmon in the game, things began to turn around for the Magic. Their defense picked up, feeding into their offense as they slowly began to whittle away at the Bulls' lead. Before you knew it, the lead was down to single digits and the Magic had found a second gear, all thanks to the energy brought by the second unit.
Over a six-minute stretch in the third and fourth quarters, the reserves gave Orlando minutes that allowed it to tie the game and eventually take the lead early in the final quarter. They flew all over the court by diving for loose balls, back-tapping long rebounds, and fighting with all the energy that they had. While they didn't have a huge impact scoring the ball--the unit combined for 28 points, with 22 of those coming from Fournier and Dedmon--it was the hustle plays that made the impact.
After the game, Coach Borrego said he felt as though the bench changed the game. "We got down early, that group came in with an energy, a competitiveness, a togetherness, a fight and they're going to have that every night. That's our challenge to them. When their numbers are called, they'll be ready."
"As a second unit, that's what we try to do," said Dedmon, when asked about the bench's ability to impact the game with their energy and defense. "Whatever the score may be, up or down, just come in and bring energy. If we're down, just try to help us out, get the starting unit in a better position. If we're up, just keep the score up and just come in with energy."
Harris said that the bench really gave the team a lift, crediting them for coming in and playing with a lot of energy. "They came out there and they're the ones who really brought us back... They set the tone for us defensively. We can take that to the next game knowing that the starting group has to bring it defensively to get everything going."
One game after we saw the bench really get into the game from a cheering standpoint, it's good to see them able to impact the game with their play on the court. They're a bunch of guys who really seem to be bonding, and they all seem to be comfortable playing with each other out there.
It's still not a perfect unit, and they have their issues, but if they're able to continue to come in, bring energy and defend like they did against a tough Bulls team, the Magic could find the balance that they so desperately need.
Odds and ends
- Prior to Sunday's tipoff, the Magic deactivated Luke Ridnour due to a "personal matter." Andrew Nicholson took Ridnour's place on the active list, but he did not play. Devyn Marble, freshly recalled from the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League, remained inactive.
- Gordon, who underwent surgery on his left foot earlier in the season, is no longer on a minutes restriction, per Coach Borrego. "Aaron's good to go," he said. "Ready to go full speed." Gordon played 12 minutes Sunday, recording three points, five rebounds, and three turnovers.