After only 189 seconds it looked like the Magic were in for an incredibly long night. A lethargic start to the game saw the hometown Clippers race out to a 10-0 lead, and fans still traumatised from last night’s performance in Sacramento were undoubtedly regretting their poor choice of Saturday night plans.
Then something happened.
Things started slowly coming together for Orlando. Jonathon Simmons again emerged as the lead option on offense, playing with a purpose and energy that infused the team. Jonathan Isaac looked fluid in getting a few baskets to go down. Wesley Iwundu and Khem Birch checked in and provided some solid defense. Shelvin Mack and Bismack Biyombo flashed a nice two-man game on consecutive sequences. Rodney Purvis dropped six straight points after taking the floor in the second quarter.
Things generally started clicking.
They kept things rolling in the third, opening the period in rhythm and forcing the Clippers to take a time out after just 34 seconds. After watching the lead dwindle to a single point they busted out the DJ Augustin show, with the veteran guard keeping the Magic in front by rattling off nine straight points — including a second trip to the free throw line after being fouled on a three-point attempt. LA eventually tied it up with some sweet shooting late in the period, but a Mack floater in the last minute ensured that Orlando entered the final frame with a lead.
Then the wheels fell off.
Or, to be more specific, Lou Williams switched on. The Clippers’ main man was phenomenal in the fourth, converting a series of contested jumpers and tough finishes that helped LA open up an 11 point lead with a shade under 4 minutes to play. The Magic ultimately couldn’t get the stops or the buckets they needed down the stretch, and the final margin ended up being 8 points in favour of the hometown team.
Let’s dive in and pick apart some of the more interesting elements of this one.
Who is your best player when your best player isn’t playing?
With both Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier on the sideline the question was always going to be who would step up for the Magic in their absence. So much of what the team does with the ball in hand comes from those two, which means that for there to be any chance of an Orlando victory they were going to need to replace this production from likely unexpected sources.
At various points tonight the Magic got the contribution they needed from first Simmons, and then Augustin. In the first half it was ‘Juice’ who emerged as the team’s fulcrum on offense, consistently getting to the rim while also generating chances for his teammates. The third then belonged to Augustin, who enjoyed a stretch where he toyed with the Clippers’ defense on his way to racking up 12 points in the period.
However, it was during the fourth quarter when the team felt the pinch in this regard. The bench unit that opened the period lacked an obvious first option and as a result the team’s solid offensive game dried up. Simmons and Augustin were unable to replicate their earlier good form down the stretch, and it became obvious why both players are better suited as number one options for reserve line ups. Simply put, when the game was in the balance the Magic didn’t have someone to turn to, while the Clippers did.
With injury forcing coach Frank Vogel to reach deeper into the rotation, Magic fans were given an intriguing glimpse into a possible future. Rookie’s Isaac, Iwundu and Birch all played extended minutes tonight, and all three flashed some serious defensive potential at different stages. The trio play with energy and intelligence, and it’s possible to envision a line up featuring the group that switches just about everything and plays stifling help defense. Isaac in particular was fantastic, covering large swathes of the court at all times and racking up steals, deflections and denials at a furious pace. As a collective they’re currently a train wreck on offense, but they could be the foundation of a tenacious defense in Orlando in the years to come.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Jonathon Simmons — backed up his strong performance from the previous tilt by dropping 24 and 7, and giving the team the energy they needed early. He got to the line, involved his teammates, and generally looked to be the most dangerous player on the court for the Magic.
Second star: DJ Augustin — his excellent third quarter kept the Magic in the game, and he used his veteran smarts to draw a foul on a three point attempt on multiple occasions. His point guard partner Shelvin Mack probably deserves an honorable mention here as well, with the duo combining for 35 on the night.
Third star: Jonathan Isaac — was quiet offensively after surprisingly racking up 7 of the tam’s first 9 points, but continued to shine as a star on D all night long. He finished with 4 steals and 1 block, and an impressive number of altered possessions.
An under-strength Magic side acquitted themselves well tonight, but lacked the muscle to pull out a victory. They move to 20-47 on the season, and will roll into San Antonio on Tuesday night for one last shot at avoiding a winless road trip. Be sure to join us back here at OPP for our coverage of the contest.