Steve Clifford’s frustration was understandable.
The Magic were failing to execute. A lead had slipped away. An opportunity had been lost. And the refs had made one bad call after another as Orlando fell to the Grizzlies, 105-97.
Clifford voiced his displeasure in the final seconds of the game and was soon ejected by the refs, and restrained by his players...
With the Miami Heat having lost to the Raptors earlier in the day, the Magic took the court with an opportunity to move back into the eighth spot in the East.
Standing in the way was a 27-40 Grizzlies team that had won three of their last four games and, since the All-Star break, owned the best defensive rating in the league.
Orlando came out extremely sluggish on the offensive end, making just six of 25 attempts in the first quarter (24 percent). Nikola Vucevic scored nine points in the quarter but shot just 4-for-12 from the field. No other Magic player scored in the quarter until 2:41 remained and Jonathan Isaac drained a three that pulled the Magic within 21-12. The Grizzlies’ lead again reached 12 when Chandler Parsons drained a three with 1:05 left in the first for a 26-14 lead.
Terrence Ross then hit a three to pull the Magic within 26-17 heading into the second quarter. The second unit helped keep the Magic in the game late in the first and early in the second quarter. In addition to providing a defensive spark, Ross scoring seven points, Khem Birch adding six, and Wes Iwundu scoring four.
The Magic shot nearly 50 percent in the second quarter, outscoring the Grizzlies 31-23 to cut the deficit to 49-48 heading into the break.
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 13 points in the first half, but checked out and went to the locker room holding his back shortly before the half. Vucevic added 12 points and Isaac had six. The Magic starting backcourt of D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier was held scoreless in the first half as the Magic shot 35.4 percent overall.
.@OrlandoMagic F Aaron Gordon (sore ribs) didn't start the second half, but he's back on the floor. X-rays on his ribs were negative and he's going to try to play through the pain in the 2nd half.— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) March 10, 2019
Vucevic scored eight points in the opening minute of the third quarter, including an eight-footer to help the Magic pull even at 59-59 with 7:54 left in the third. Iwundu, who was playing with the first unit after Fournier was ejected early in the third after receiving two quick technical fouls for arguing a non-call, gave the Magic their first lead of the night when he hit a free throw to make it 60-59.
The Grizzlies responded with an 8-0 run until Jerian Grant rained a corner three to make it 67-63. Grant followed with another three to pull the Magic within one. The bench production for the Magic continued when Jarell Martin checked in and immediately hit a three against his former team. A three by Ross tied it at 72 with 30 seconds left, but CJ Miles answered with a three of his own to send the Grizzlies into the fourth with a 75-72 lead.
The Magic bench continued to produce in the fourth, with Ross hitting two of three free throws after being fouled from deep, Birch converting a lay-up off a broken play, and Ross draining a three for a 79-75 lead.
The Magic lead reached as many as seven when Isaac hit a pair of free throws for a 91-84 advantage with 5:38 left. The Grizzlies soon pulled within two when Mike Conley hit a floater to make it 95-93 with two minutes remaining.
A pair of free throw by Vucevic gave the Magic a four-point lead with 1:48 left, but those would be the final points scored by Orlando.
A horrible sequence for the refs began when Iwundu’s dunk attempt was blocked by Jonas Valanciunas and there appeared to be clear contact on the arm that went uncalled. At the other end, there was no-call on a blatant Grizzlies travel and then a phantom call on Iwundu that led to a three-point play by Delon Wright to pull the Grizzlies within one.
Conley, who scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth, then hit two free throws that gave the Grizzlies a 98-97 lead with 50 seconds left.
Orlando, with poor execution down the stretch, was held without a field goal over the final 6:18 of the game. Clifford received two technical in the closing seconds.
His frustration summed up the night for the Magic. Orlando shot only 35.6 percent but got a big night from Vucevic (26 points and 10 rebounds) and a huge lift from their bench (42 points, led by Ross with 15). Still, they couldn’t hold on to a late lead (with help from the refs) and failed to capitalize on an opportunity to gain ground in the playoff push.
The Magic, who have two days off before they play at Washington, remain a game behind the Heat for the eighth spot and four games behind the Nets for the seventh seed.