We’ve got one more day before the Magic are back in action, so what better time than now to try and unpack some of the areas of interest to have emerged from the Game One upset. After some time spent poring over both the game itself and data accumulated by the NBA, ESPN and Basketball Reference, here are three factors that stood out.
A lot of the post-game chatter was about Orlando’s solid execution of its defensive gameplan. Aaron Gordon’s physicality with Kawhi Leonard after the game’s first time out. Jonathan Isaac’s monster swat on Pascal Siakam. The swarming limbs that the Magic repeatedly sent at the ball. But we haven’t heard too much about the side’s defensive rebounding, the oft-overlooked component of defensive sequences that closes the possession. Let’s rectify that now!
Make no mistake: the Magic owned the glass in this game. A quick perusal of the box score -- rebounding totals of 55-54, Orlando’s way -- doesn’t accurately reflect the full extent of the dominance, with Toronto’s numbers inflated by the incredible number of two-point shots that the Magic missed. Once you dig a little deeper you can see how thoroughly Steve Clifford’s men controlled this aspect of the game.
The Magic limited Toronto to just six offensive rebounds all game, denying them the opportunity to extend possessions and managing the defensive effort that the team had to expend at this end of the court. The Raptors didn’t claim their first offensive board until deep into the second quarter, while their first second-chance point for the game didn’t come until midway through the third. In fact, they only had six second-chance points for the game (compared to Orlando’s 11), and four of these came off point-blank putbacks that any defender would struggle to defuse. That leaves just one other measly bucket that the Magic gave up after the initial shot attempt.
It’s also worth thinking about Toronto’s shot selection and shooting charts here as well. Although they launched from deep 36 times -- a figure which accounts for over 40% of their total attempts -- they connected only 12 times from beyond the arc. Long distance shots result in longer and larger rebound zones, and by my count, the Magic reeled in every single one of these long-range misses. This fact speaks to the attentive and effective job done on the glass by players like Gordon, Isaac and Michael Carter-Williams.
When compared to season averages, these rebounding figures are decisive victories for the Magic. Toronto claimed just 13.6% of available offensive rebounds, a figure almost six percentage points lower than the league’s worst team on the offensive glass (Chicago, at an average of 19.4%). The Raptors are hardly an offensive rebounding force -- they rank just 21st in this metric on the season -- but with their size and athleticism on the frontline and wing (as well as their shot profile in this particular game) they should probably expect to have come into more of these opportunities. In a one possession game this difference was vital.
The Magic have been a very good team on the glass all season long, so their victory in that facet of the game was hardly unexpected. What was a genuine surprise, though, was that they were also able to claim bragging rights at the free throw line. Again, in a game decided by only three points the significance of this cannot be understated.
The boxscore numbers starkly display the advantage enjoyed here by Orlando. They got up 20 attempts for the game compared to just 14 for Toronto, while also doubling the opposition’s makes, 18 to 9. It’s unlikely that these conversion percentages -- 90% for the Magic and just 64.3% for the Raptors -- hold true for the entirety of the series, just because they’re so far from the season averages. Remember, Toronto were the league’s third best free-throw shooting team, connecting on over 80% of their attempts, while the Magic shot a shade above 78% as a team through 82 games. The percentages will flatten out.
However, the manner in which Orlando arrived at the line is something they could conceivably continue to tilt in their favor as the series progresses. We know that the Magic have long been a free-throw anemic side, with the second worst rate of trips to the charity stripe of any team this season (they generated just .216 free throw attempts per shot from the field in the regular season). This figure improved, though, during the late season surge, most notably in victories. As a trend, it’s heading in the right direction.
The Magic consistently drove into the heart of the Raptor’s defense, getting into the lane and hunting out shots within six feet of the rim. They were actually outscored in terms of points in the paint (40-36), but much of this was because they were being fouled in the act of shooting (well, that and the fact that they shot just 36% on two-point attempts, of course). With a similar shot profile in Game 2, it’s likely that the Magic will make a greater percentage of their attempts close to the rim, while also maintaining a higher frequency of trips to the charity stripe than they usually enjoy. We know to expect a regression to the mean for shooting numbers; what Orlando must ensure now is that they don’t also revert to a more passive style of play.
A quick consideration of the team’s defense is also important here. Both sides committed 19 personal fouls. Keep in mind that a handful of Orlando’s were (questionable) offensive calls, which speaks to how hard the team worked to avoid being whistled for shooting fouls. They played stout defense with straight arms and body-to-body contact, channeling a physicality that made life difficult for the Raptors while not marching them to the stripe. Such tendencies have long been a hallmark of Clifford-coached teams, and if the Magic can continue to limit this source of cheap points for Toronto they’ll be making life demonstrably easier for themselves in the games to come.
Beyond the final tally of points, the boxscore doesn’t immediately reveal where this game was won for Orlando. Our own Mike Cali already spent some time looking at this in his game analysis, and it’s true that there are some exceedingly odd numbers to be found.
The Magic shot just 40% from the field, including the previously mentioned ice-cold two-point conversion rate of 36%. They made four fewer total field goals than their Canadian counterparts, who converted at a rate north of 45% for the game. There were also a series of close statistical battles related to points: 11 turnovers committed by the Magic to 12 for the Raptors; 13 points from these for Orlando against 12 for Toronto; a count of fast break points that slightly favored the Raptors just 15 to 14. None of these reveal any sort of decisive edge for Orlando.
Where they won the battle with ball in hand was in their previously identified free throw advantage and, equally surprisingly, from behind the arc. The Magic shot the lights out from distance, connecting on 14 of 29 long range attempts for an accuracy of 48.3%. Toronto, by comparison, were just 33.3% from this range, hitting only 12 of their 36 three-point attempts. Both sides are about league average in terms of how often they hunt these shots out in a game (although Toronto are marginally more active from deep), so it’s not the frequency that surprised: it’s Orlando’s efficiency.
No one should expect the Magic to keep canning triples at the rate they did on Saturday. However, maybe the surprise over the Game One performance is a little overblown. Long thought of as a poor three-point shooting side, Orlando have steadily developed into an above-average unit in this regard, ranking equal tenth in accuracy (with a mark of 35.6%) over the course of the season. Now, that is obviously a long way from a figure of 48%, but what also shifted in the series opener was where the team attempted these shots from.
Simply put, Orlando did a much better job of leveraging the corner three in this game than they traditionally have all season. They normally take one of the league’s lowest percentage of attempts from this position on the court, with just 19.1% of their threes coming from the corners this season. Against the Raptors they managed to knock down four, a pair of which were a result of great passing vision out of the high post from Nikola Vucevic. That pass is in his repertoire, as long as the shooters get themselves in position. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Magic racking up 12 points from a spot on the floor where they average less than five per game turned out to be incredibly important in such a tight contest.
The playoffs are all about adjustments; Orlando might have made one in their favor already.
As much as one might like to see it, the chances of the Magic again shooting almost 50% from behind the arc aren’t great. They’re not going to continue to make twice as many free throws as their opposition. The Raptors have the players and skill to make their job on the defensive boards tougher moving forward.
However, a closer analysis of the numbers suggests that there is something potentially sustainable about this. Orlando must continue to seek out shots that haven’t always been part of their profile this season. They will need to remain aggressive at both ends, controlling the flow of the game. And they’ll need to keep on getting contributions, no matter how small, from up and down the roster.
Crazier things have happened in the NBA. Now we just need three more bouts of it.