Every young team in the NBA goes through growing pains. For some teams, they're more extreme than others. As they currently sit, the Orlando Magic are going through some of the more extreme pains every young team faces.
Up for 42 of the first 43 minutes, things looked promising for the Magic against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks. Then, the collapse began.
After a 7-0 run gave the Magic a seven point lead, Atlanta jumped on the Magic, closing the game on a 2405 run to take home a 12-point victory. It wasn't the first time
this season this month the Magic had blown a late lead and ultimately lost. Yet no matter how many times the team falters at the end of a game it can't seem to find a way to right the ship and finally get that desired victory.
While the loss against the Hawks wasn't necessarily totally on the Magic--Atlanta turned it up to another gear on both ends of the floor and found ways to hit contested shots as the game wound down-- a lot of it can be placed on the young team. Their offense, which started the game out scorching hot, failed to produce, turning the ball over seven times, leading to 13 Hawks points, while also stagnating, with players more often than not forcing up a highly contested shot.
Following the game, coach James Borrego admitted that there has been a commonality in the team's struggle to close out games.
"I think a lot of it has been on the offensive end," said the rookie head coach. "When we're trying to get buckets down the stretch, our opponents' energy and defense picks up. We [have] got to stay poised, keep our spacing, keep our execution, and really find better shots than what we are finding right now and that's my job to help them. As a group, collectively, we'll get better there and we need to get better there."
Despite another tough loss, Borrego was able to see some encouraging signs from his team. "I'm encouraged by our effort, the way we started the game, the way we played for the most part against the top team in the East," said the Magic's head man. The coach went on to say that the Hawks deserved credit for how well they played down the stretch. He also pinpointed the end of the third quarter as a swinging point in the game, with the Hawks knocking down a few late shots to cut the Magic's lead down to three, instead of seven heading into the final quarter.
Magic players all seemed to share the same sentiment that it was a very frustrating loss. "It's very frustrating to end the game the way we did," said veteran Willie Green.
"It's very frustrating. Once again it's one of those things that, we know we can play with anybody, we have the talent, we're good enough, we just have to close out games," said rookie point guard Elfrid Payton. Payton, who single-handedly kept the team in the game in the third quarter, flirted with yet another triple-double, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
Victor Oladipo, who spearheaded the Magic's strong start before going 1-of-6 from the field for the remainder of the game, said "It's tough." Oladipo also compared the team's performance to their loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. "Great start, just like the other night, only this night we kind of let it slip away in the fourth. It was tough, man. But, at the end of the day, credit them. They played well together, they've been playing well all year and they hit big shots down the stretch."
The loss, the Magic's 51st of the season, was tough, as Oladipo said, but one they can still build with. They played the best team in the East, and arguably the second-best in the league, really tough for much of the game, and seemed poised to beat them once again. They were just out executed by a team that plays some of the most flawless basketball in the entire league.
The frustration is continuing to build, but with more seasoning, and time together, the Magic will be able to find ways to close out games like these. It's going to take a little more time, but greener pastures await for the Magic in the coming seasons, and when they look back on the turbulent times, they can pinpoint games like their loss to the Hawks as reasons they're able to close out games at a high level.