Losing out late
As has been the case many times this season, the Orlando Magic found themselves fighting in a close game after leading by a considerable margin. Yet again, the Magic were able to come up with some big plays, but found themselves losing out when it really mattered.
Despite getting a huge bucket from Evan Fournier to tie the game up with 13 seconds to go, and playing lock down defense on Kawhi Leonard before he rose up and his a tough jumper over the outstretched arm of Aaron Gordon, the young Magic bunch thought they let one get away, mainly because of a few 50/50 plays earlier in the fourth quarter.
Most notably, an offensive rebound off of a missed shot form Leonard that bounced around before being scooped up by the spark plug that is Patty Mills. Mills found LaMarcus Aldridge, who went to the line and cut the Magic's lead down to one before giving the Spurs the lead a possession later.
The sequence, that appropriately summed up the Magic's late game blunders, wasn't the end-all be-all for the bunch, but was a back breaking blow none the less. Had they secured the rebound, they would've, potentially, been able to go up by two possessions, a steep hill to climb even for the best of teams with under two minutes to play.
"When plays need to be made, you've got to make it," said a disgruntled Scott Skiles. "There's a handful of plays in every game that kind of just don't go your way. Maybe the other team out-hustles you or something, but for us in key moments, we have struggled to just make the winning play or plays."
While it's impossible to make every play correctly in every game, the fact that it's a continuing trend is concerning for the young Magic bunch. Their inability to make the little play that can go a long way is an issue, and could, in some ways, hurt the team as they continue to improve.
"Those little effort plays that we didn't make, they obviously did, and they took the game," said Nikola Vucevic.
On top of missing out on the little plays, the Magic have played a different brand of basketball later in games, which is even more of an issue. They show they're capable of playing with the best teams in the league, and even having chances to beat them, but they lock up and fail to execute the way that got them in the position to potentially take home a win late.
Be it an errant inbounds pass, or a forced shot do to poor ball movement, the team finds ways to crumble late. And that, in the end, was their undoing against the Spurs on Wednesday night.
At the end of the day, you have to give the Spurs credit for making those winning plays, but also have to worry about the Magic's general inability to do so. It's been a continual thing throughout the season, They did it on Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks, but were able to come away with a win thanks to the heroics of Vucevic.
The fact that the team knows that it's an issue is good, but it doesn't mean they'll magically be able to wave a wand and fix it. At the end of the day, it's an effort thing, and Magic players need to put forth that extra bit of energy if they want to continue to improve this season.
Carrying momentum into the break
Despite the loss, the Magic still have some good things to take into the break. They've played extremely well in their last few games, and are showing signs of life that should be good for the team moving forward.
The biggest thing for the Magic in their previous three games is the fact that they're buckling down on the defensive end once again. While they've still had lapses, they've shown a much better energy level on that end, which was one of their biggest issues throughout their continually struggles.
Add in their improvement on the offensive end -- the team has moved the ball a bit better and found higher quality shots -- and it's a welcoming sign for a young Magic bunch that have a tough schedule out of the break.
While players admitted it was a tough loss to take, they're still pleased with the direction they're moving. "We're moving in the right direction," said Aaron Gordon. "We're going to continue to play hard. We're going to continue to play the right away and we're just going to go up for the rest of the season."
It wasn't the way they wanted to go into the break, but their play is giving them some signs that they're turning things around. They still have a long way to go, but the momentum they have now could go a long way going into the final months of the season.