Steve Clifford will not be handling the young, rebuilding Orlando Magic with kid gloves.
He showed that on Wednesday night after the Magic surrendered a pair of double-digit leads and lost to the Detroit Pistons, 103-96. During his postgame press conference, he didn’t hold back his frustration.
The gloves came off.
“If we’re going to play eight, nine, ten [guys], we’re going to need five or six to be good, play well,” Clifford told reporters. “Tonight, obviously we just didn’t have that. Starters were really good. The bench was...whoa. I mean, really bad. Not even competitive in either half. Makes it hard to win in this league.”
The Magic put themselves in position to win multiple times on Wednesday, establishing a 15-point lead in the first quarter and, even after falling behind by 10, an 11-point lead in the third quarter. Within minutes those leads were squandered. And that was in part because of a lack of bench production.
Outside of Terrence Ross, who continued to provide a lift off the bench by scoring 15 points on 6 of 12 shooting, the remainder of the Magic bench scored just five points on 1-for-14 shooting and committed eight turnovers.
“Guys have to be professional and be ready to play. And that’s that.” Clifford said. “We don’t have anybody that’s going to be averaging 28 here in this stretch. Everybody’s gotta be ready to play. I thought Terrence Ross was good off the bench. The other guys, just not even close.”
Clifford went to a 10-man rotation on Wednesday with Ross getting 28 minutes, Jarell Martin (0 points, 0-for-5 FG) and Jonathon Simmons (3 points, 0-for-5 FG, three turnovers) getting 20 minutes, Jerian Grant (0 points, 0-for-2 FG, 6 assists) getting 17 minutes, and Mo Bamba (2 points, 1-for-2 FG) getting 14 minutes. The second unit, other than Ross, in no way helped protect the leads the starters built, as the Pistons used end-of-quarter runs to climb back into the game.
“You cant play like that,” Clifford said. “Not back on defense. Disorganized on offense...48 minutes, you can’t play five guys. You have to step in. They’re good enough players. It’s not like they’re not capable. But they have to play, and they have to play well.”
They didn’t. And the individual plus/minus for the reserves show that. While +/- isn’t exactly an all-encompassing stat, it still paints an ugly picture...
Yeah, this is just flat out ugly... pic.twitter.com/Qaenu0TOoH— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) November 8, 2018
That’s in comparison to the starters, who all ranged between +9 (Nikola Vucevic) and +19 (Wes Iwundu).
Clifford said the disorganization of the second unit on offense included players being in the wrong spot and not knowing the calls.
”If a play starts wrong, it’s going to end wrong,” he said. “I mean, it’s pretty simple.”
Were the reserves too relaxed because of the Magic’s leads?
“I wouldn’t call that relaxing,” Clifford said. “I would call it a lack of readiness to compete, is what I would call it. And in this league you can’t be like that.”
When asked if he was encouraged that the Magic starting five outplayed the Pistons’ talented starting five, Clifford snapped back, refusing to take positives from a disheartening loss.
“One of the things that does have to change is that we have to have, all of us, expectations of playing well, instead of just saying this guy did this good, and all this stuff, and the fans saying good job,” he said. “It’s not OK. This league is about winning in the playoffs.”
The Magic won plenty in the playoffs during Clifford’s first stint in Orlando as an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy. Times, and expectations, have since changed in Orlando.
“The expectations are so much different than when I was here before,” Clifford said. “You know, those guys didn’t play well back then, they heard about it. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. And these guys need to hear about it too because they’re good enough to play better too. And I need to hear about it, too. That’s all fine. That’s part of this. But to say, let’s find out what’s good, let’s not. Let’s just tell the story, OK. The bench was embarrassing. It was embarrassing. That’s it.”
Coach Steve Clifford doesn't hold back, rips Orlando Magic bench after loss to Pistons... pic.twitter.com/s0ap694eZV— NBAMagician (@NBAMagician) November 8, 2018
I’m all for Clifford’s tough love approach of putting his players on blast to the media when warranted. When a team is in year seven of a rebuild, annually running on a treadmill that leads to nowhere but 20-something win seasons, the luxury of patience, sugar-coating and handling players delicately are no longer options.
In order to change the expectations surrounding the Magic, there must first be accountability that will ultimately help change the results and culture.
And, by taking the gloves off, that is what Clifford is trying to accomplish.