Terrence Ross knew the Magic were at the start of something special.
He said those exact words in a thank you letter to Raptors fans after he was traded to Orlando back in 2017.
“As for Orlando — like I said: I’m excited,” he wrote for the Players Tribune at the time. “I really do feel like I’m at the start of something special here. But I know it won’t be easy. We’ve got a long way to go … and some great teams to get past to make it to the top.”
Something special? The addition of Ross was one of the key moves that ultimately helped the Magic end their seven-year postseason drought.
Long way to go? It was in what was essentially Ross’ first full season with Orlando (traded midway through the 2016-2017 season, injured during the 2017-2018 season) that the Magic made a 17-win improvement. While the Magic still have “a long way to go” to become a perennial contender in the East like Toronto, this season showed significant progress.
Great teams to get past? Ross also wrote in the letter that the road to the top of the East would go through Toronto. And that’s exactly where the Magic find themselves on Saturday. Ross returns to Toronto, the city where his NBA career began, to face the second-seeded Raptors in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
Toronto, during Ross’ four-plus seasons there, never saw the current version of him. The one who has emerged as an instant offense spark plug, superhero nickname worthy, Sixth Man of the Year candidate who can shoot a team to victory.
Raptors fans, if they don’t know already, will soon find out why Ross is now known around these parts as “The Human Torch.“ And yes, I did force a “King in the North” reference into the headline in honor of Game of Thrones premiere weekend. Same goes for the tweet below...
Ross enters the series against the Raptors, who drafted him with the eighth pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, in the midst of what could be the best string of games of his career. Over the final four games of the regular season, Ross averaged 28.7 points on 57.8 shooting, making 5.7 of his 10.3 three-point attempts (54.8 percent). Those numbers coincided with a four-game winning streak, capped by Ross’ season-high 35-point performance that sealed the seventh-seed for the Magic.
It was the culmination of a regular season in which Ross averaged a career-best 15.1 points and made 217 three-pointers, becoming the first player in NBA history to make over 200 without starting a single game.
Such high-volume shooting wasn’t asked of Ross when he was in Toronto playing behind or alongside Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Ross, in 363 games with the Raptors, averaged 9.5 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting, with his famous 51-point game mixed in somewhere.
He never found the consistency he has developed this season in Orlando, where he set career-highs in usage rate 23.9 and True Shooting Percentage (56.1). In the 20 games where Ross has scored more than 20 or more points, the Magic have gone 14-6. In games this season where Ross has had his worst shooting performances of the season, shooting under 30 percent from the field, the Magic have gone 6-15.
So, the torch must remain lit at all times. Particularly on the road, when a team lacking playoff experience like the Magic could be in desperate need of the crowd-silencing basket that Ross so commonly provides.
The Magic are set to face a Raptors’ team that owns the league’s fifth best defensive rating at 106.8 points per 100 possessions, and limits teams to 34.5 percent shooting from three (eighth best in league). Should Ross flame out, even for a game or two, against an elite team like Toronto, it could put the Magic in a hole they can’t climb out of.
Ross, in 31 playoff games with the Raptors, struggled with his shot, connecting on just 36.4 percent of his attempts, including 29.2 percent from three. This though, as we said, is not the same Ross. He’s older, wiser, and more combustible.
And he’s helped start something special in Orlando.