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Magic can’t maintain first-half energy, get blitzed in the 4th to fall 112-103 to Portland

The first half was a lot of fun. The second half not so much.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

For a half, the Magic played the way you expect them to, given their strengths and weaknesses. While they didn’t shoot the ball very well, they took advantage of their high energy and several Portland Trail Blazers mistakes to gradually build up a lead, relying on some welcome playmaking from newcomer Terrence Ross and some surprising shooting from Mario Hezonja. That all vanished in the second half, and so too did the Magic’s lead, as Portland used a 35-18 fourth quarter to seal a 112-103 victory. Ross started in his first game with the Magic, making several important plays for the Magic, but hurting them with his 4-17 shooting night. Nikola Vucevic scored 25 for the Magic on 8-20 shooting. Damian Lillard scored 33, including 17 in the crucial 4th quarter.

The first half was all about energy for the Magic, who came back from the break looking refreshed, albeit a bit rusty. While the shooting was nothing to write home about (19-49, about 39%), the Magic made it work at the line, going 14-19. While the Blazers shot 47%, it overlooks how the Magic forced 14 turnovers and collected 9 offensive rebounds, crucial extra opportunities that allowed them to build that 9-point lead at halftime.

While Ross’s shooting was unspectacular in his debut (1-7 in the first half), he made up for it with his playmaking, even if it didn’t show up in the box score (at least three of his passes in the paint led to free throws throughout the night). His first 6 points in a Magic uniform came from 3-point attempts, though the first one was thanks to a foul call (a 3-FTA chance in the Magic’s favor, for a change).

The other feel-good story of the first half: Mario Hezonja’s efficient scoring and solid defense. The Magic’s mercurial sophomore was 4-4 in the first half, including two 3-pointers, the latter leading to some rarely-seen swag in the form of a staredown. Better yet, his presence was felt on the other end of the court, too, as he collected a steal and had several other deflections. He was a game-high+14 in the first half.

The second half got off the a rougher start. The Magic slowly built the lead into double-digits, but their energy from the first waned somewhat, and Portland discovered Orlando’s gaping hole in the paint, attacking it over and over again to build an 11-0 run, entirely thanks to layups and foul shots around the rim. That got the Blazers within 3 before two makes and and an assist from Vucevic slowed Portland’s momentum. The Magic looked like they might only take a 5 or 3-point lead into the fourth after Portland’s last shot, but they instead forced a turnover leading to a massive 3-pointer from D.J. Augustin, and an 85-77 lead.

The fourth is when things went down the drain. While the Magic briefly looked to regain control of the game, pushing the lead back to 11 a few different times, the Blazers quickly cut it down to size, getting within 4 with about 6 minutes remaining. While the turnovers and offensive rebounds from the first half were crucial toward building up the lead, there was a big risk that those were unsustainable advantages. Indeed, only 4** Blazer turnovers and 3** Magic offensive boards, the complexion of the game changed completely. With about 4:30 left, the Blazers took their first lead since 2-0 on a corner 3-pointer, and they quickly built it up to 6. Lillard was a monster in the final 12 minutes, scoring 17 points to nearly outpace the Magic by himself.

A Fournier 3-pointer cut the lead in half, but Maurice Harkless came right back with a jumper to push it to 5. Orlando got all the way within 2 after Fournier forced a Nurkic miss and then assisted Vuc on the other end, but another Blazer 3-pointer (4-8 in the quarter) put the game right back to 5 and out of reach the rest of the way. Whlie Ross’s playmaking was a welcome addition in the first half, he took some bad shots throughout the rest of the game, leading to his 4-17 shooting night.