After the Game 1 dust had settled, and victory finally sunk in, perhaps you took a look at the box score.
You noticed that Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross both struggled. You saw that Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam both played better than they had earlier this season again Orlando. You got to the Magic’s field goal percentage and had an ugly 40 percent staring back at you.
If your reaction was anything like mine, you probably said something along the lines of: “How the hell did the Orlando Magic win this game?!”
And that was what made the victory all the more impressive. The Magic managed to fight through a game where they were in no way flawless and still come out with a win.
So much of the Magic’s success this season, in addition to their defense, had been predicated on Vucevic’s efficient production and Ross’ spontaneous combustion. The Magic got neither of those in Game 1 against the Raptors as the two combined to go 5-for-25 from the field for 21 points. The team overall shot just 40 percent from the field, hardly a number that will improve win expectancy when facing an opponent that is top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
So how did they manage to stun the Raptors for a 104-101 victory? Balance, resilience, and D.J. Augustin.
“Even when things went against us, we hung in the game,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game. “We kept fighting.”
They also got help from somewhat unexpected sources (25 points from Augustin) and from somewhat expected sources (the Toronto Raptors’ postseason demons), with the two joining forces on the game-winning shot.
We live in a world where Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross combined to shoot 8-for-35 and the Magic still won on the home court of one of the league’s best offensive and defensive teams.— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) April 13, 2019
Good teams find a way. As impressive a win as it gets for the Magic
Augustin, at the beginning of the season, was ranked by one publication as the 30th best starting point guard in a 30-team league. A career back-up prior to this season, Augustin quieted the critics as the season progressed with his elite ball protection as he guided the Magic to their first postseason berth of the post-Dwight Howard era.
Positional breakdowns of the Magic/Raptors series gave the Raptors a consensus advantage at point guard. But in Game 1, Augustin outscored Kyle Lowry 25 to 0, a margin that is not easy to compensate for in a postseason game. Lowry, who was getting open looks but simply missing them, contributed in other areas but also looked tentative with his shot late in the game. It was a movie that Raptors fans had seen many times before. In Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs over the last six seasons, Lowry is now averaging just 9.2 points on 26.5 percent shooting.
“I got some looks and missed them,” Lowry told reporters. “That’s about it. It’s nothing in me. I just missed some shots. I was open. I did … well on the floor-general side, but I missed some shots.”
While the Magic lean heavily on Vucevic and Ross offensively this season, the team has also had others step up when need be, sometimes unexpectedly. It was a collective effort against the Raptors, as Orlando, despite shooting just 40 percent overall, shot 36 percent on two-point field goals (22-for-61) and 48.3 percent on three-point field goals (14-for-29) for what is as odd of a statistic as you’ll see in an NBA playoff game.
That included Aaron Gordon hitting both of his attempts despite a poor shooting night, and Michael Carter-Williams, who entered the game 0-for-6 from three in 11 postseason games, making 2 of 3 attempts.
But of course, it was the Magic’s last three that has, and will continue to, be seen over and over again. Off a high pick-and-roll, Augustin got the daylight he needed and fired away, the ball barely moving the net. It was a miscommunication by the Raptors that gave Augustin the separation he needed for the shot attempt, as Kawhi Leonard, thinking he was to switch, stayed with Vucevic, while Marc Gasol also dropped into coverage, leaving Augustin, a 42 percent three-point shooter this season, alone to be the hero.
“It looked like Kawhi thought it was a switch and went under to hold up Vucevic and Marc was still in the up position but not the switch position, so it gave him the room to get it off,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
“There was a mistake made on that play,” added Gasol. “We miscommunicated and [Augustin] made a good shot. That’s what happened.”
With that, the Magic, at least for one game, made some experts look silly (FiveThirtyEight gave the Magic a 2% chance to win the series, though even with the win it has only jumped to 10%), and ripped up everything that has been written about playoff experience (the Magic have the youngest team this season in the Eastern Conference playoffs).
Many would have expected a team without “experience” and without a true go-to scorer who can create off the dribble to fold when adversity struck and a crowd starved for postseason success roared. The Magic, though, withstood each of the Raptors’ potential game-altering runs: the opening run that gave Toronto a seven-point lead, the 22-2 run that carried through halftime and erased a 16-point Magic lead, and the late run that gave Toronto a six-point advantage with less than six minutes remaining.
The Magic are now playing with house money, with all pressure having shifted to the Raptors, who now face a must-win game. The abnormalities of Game 1 will likely be corrected in Game 2. Lowry won’t go scoreless, Leonard will play more than 33 minutes, the Magic won’t shoot better from beyond the arc than they do from inside it, Vucevic and Ross won’t struggle as they did (we hope).
But the Magic winning a game where they clearly were not at their best only shows that they should no longer be underestimated.
“We’ve been doubted our whole season, even before the season even started,” Augustin told reporters. “Nobody expected us to be here today. Nobody expected us to win tonight. We always believed in each other.”