Game one is officially in the books. So is Orlando’s first playoff win since 2012.
The Magic did a great job of absorbing everything the Raptors threw at them, knuckling down on defense and riding a game-winning offensive performance from D.J. Augustin to an unlikely upset in Game One. Let’s look at how this one unfolded.
The game’s opening minutes really belonged to Kawhi Leonard in his return to playoff basketball. He was dominant early, scoring 7 quick points, getting into the lane almost at will, and buzzing on defense. His aggressive plays created space for teammates, who found they had either an extra step on the dribble or a wide open attempt from behind the arc. In contrast, Orlando were tentative at both ends, struggling with their shot and struggling to contain the aggressive Toronto forays into the paint. The postseason experience gulf was evident.
Yet the Magic were able to weather this early storm and hang around. When Terrence Ross was fouled shooting a three pointer -- on his first attempt of the game, no less -- the Magic had their first lead of the postseason, 18-17. As more reserves came into the game the defensive concerns remained, and a pair of Fred VanVleet triples and a Jodie Meeks’ and-one eventually pushed Toronto’s lead to 8. A nice defensive read and fastbreak bucket from Ross got Orlando back within 5 as the quarter closed, a solid result for a team clearly feeling their way.
The worry as the second quarter started was that the inexperienced Magic bench would lose ground to their deep Raptors’ counterparts. To their credit this didn’t happen, with some solid defense and just enough shotmaking to get back within a point. When Nikola Vucevic and Augustin checked back in with a little over seven minutes to go in the half the game was poised at an interesting point.
Vooch got a quick hook shot to go to open his account. AG tracked a play from the weakside and threw down a tremendous putback stuff. Gordon followed this with a zero-hesitation triple, while Augustin chimed in with one of his own on the next Orlando possession. Then came probably the sequence of the half, with Vooch blocking a Leonard attempt, Gordon securing the ball and pushing in transition, Vucevic hustling into the play to nab an offensive rebound he had no right to, before Augustin and Fournier showed tremendous patience to find a wide open triple. 48-41 Magic, and the team were buzzing.
But Augustin wasn’t done yet. It was at this point that he simply took over the game, getting a layup, two free throws and a huge make from distance on back-to-back-to-back possessions. When he found Vucevic trailing to the hoop on a nifty blind pass behind the back the Magic had rattled off 15 straight points, improbably leading 57-41 in a game that many thought would be a walk in the park for the favourites. Late triples to Gasol and Green trimmed the lead to 8 at the half, but it was still a confidence-building success for the Magic.
There were some compelling numbers at the half for Orlando. They committed only 4 turnovers, looking after the ball and getting to the end of possessions. They owned the defensive glass, giving up only 2 on a single sequence, and not conceding any second chance points. They also benefited from some ice cold Toronto shooting, who converted their attempts from deep at less than a 29% rate (6-21). Augustin was outscoring Kyle Lowry 19-0.
So, the third-quarter question is how did things go so wrong, so quickly? They had only a single made field goal across the first 6 minutes of the period, with the offense stagnating and a lot of attempts coming out of one-on-one sequences. The ball movement and patience of the second quarter was gone, and it was clear that Toronto’s increased defensive intensity was giving the Magic fits. Worryingly, there were also some defensive miscues, with the Raptors finding buckets off backdoor cuts and getting their hands on offensive boards that Orlando failed to take away. Ultimately the Toronto run extended as far as 22-2, with a Siakam dunk turning what was once a 16 point lead for Orlando into a 4 point deficit.
Thanks to great effort the Magic were able to stabilise, getting timely buckets from Fournier, Michael Carter-Williams and a fearless Wes Iwundu. They also continued to benefit from an unexpected advantage in free throw attempts, a testament to the team’s commitment to go at the Toronto defense. When the quarter closed Orlando had absorbed some of the Raptors’ best punches, down just a single point and putting themselves back in a position to potentially claim an upset.
One of the keys to the game was always going to be the bench play, and to the credit of Orlando’s reserves they played some good basketball to open the fourth quarter. Canada’s own Khem Birch had a couple of great hustle plays and strong finishes, while MCW got 5 quick points on a corner triple and a decisive drive. His final bucket put the Magic within 2, before an uncalled hit to the face sent him to the bench with blood pouring from his face. It was a rallying moment.
Vucevic, who really had an off-night by his All-Star standards, managed to get some momentum with a series of nice plays with about five minutes to play. He made a beautiful pass out of the post to the far corner for a wide open AG triple. He followed this up with a make from distance of his own, before sending an outlet pass to Gordon who found a streaking Fournier for an easy slam. This put the Magic back in front 94-92, and with less than 4 minutes to play an unlikely W was looking more probable.
To get there though they would have to account for Leonard, who lived up to his big-game billing. He got 5 straight for the Raptors, pushing them to a 101-99 lead that had an air of inevitability to it. The Toronto crowd was rocking, and it wasn’t clear how they playoff-inexperienced Magic would respond.
Enter D.J. Augustin. First he knotted things up with a absurd make in the paint when surrounded by a collapsing Raptors’ defense. When Vucevic cleared the defensive glass off a Gasol miss he put the ball straight back in the diminutive point guard’s hands, who waited out a switch and with ice in his veins drilled a huge triple to put the Magic up 3. Leonard would have a chance to tie it but his attempt was long, and after one final defensive rebound and a careful inbounding the Magic had the W, 104-101.
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: D.J. Augustin — He was absolutely sublime in the second quarter, and then closed things out in the game’s final minute like he’s been doing it all his life. He finished with 25 and 6 on 9-13 shooting, with just a single turnover. Game MVP.
Second star: Aaron Gordon — He didn’t shoot the ball well and occasionally forced the issue on offense, but his defense was solid, his rebounding excellent, and he regularly made the hustle and energy plays the team needs him to provide. 10 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and a perfect 2-2 from deep.
Third star: Michael Carter-Williams — Bleed for this team and you make the list. He played 18 solid minutes, helping an overmatched bench squad keep pace with their more fancied opposition. He finished with 10 points and 5 boards, while also drilling a pair of much needed triples.
One game. One W. Three more to get. See you back here on Tuesday.