Another game in the Magic’s first round matchup is now in the books. While it might seem like a bit of a bounceback after the capitulation in Toronto, the fact is that home court advantage has now shifted back to the favorites, and that Orlando now have an even tougher assignment on their hands. Before we gear up for the next one, let’s explore some of the key takeaways from Friday night’s offering.
Make or Miss
Sometimes basketball is a really simple sport. All the game-to-game planning and play-to-play adjustments in the world can’t make up for the fact that, at the end of 48, the NBA is often just a make or miss league. If one team hits their shots and the other doesn’t you can pretty much lock in which side will be emerging victorious. Can you guess which side the Magic were on Friday?
If you thought to yourself that the Magic sure seemed to miss a lot of shots, you’re spot on; Orlando sputtered throughout a wretched shooting performance, clanking all manner of attempts on their way to a 98-93 defeat. As a team they shot just 36.3% from the field on the night, including a frigid 29.5% from deep. Compounding the matter was the fact that the Magic were hoisting from long range with frequency, with three-point attempts accounting for 55% of the team’s total shot profile. Eight different players pulled the trigger from beyond the arc, with only Khem Birch resisting the urge to test out his form; combined they launched 44, hitting just 13 (including a half-court bank shot from Terrence Ross to close the half). It wasn’t pretty.
The Magic were only marginally better inside the arc, where they shot 16 of 36 for the night. This conversion rate of 44.4% is obviously a much healthier figure than their mark from deep, but as a team they still missed an awful lot of attempts around the hoop and in the lane, including a pair by Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon on one sequence in the third quarter when Orlando were threatening to get back in it. They were also less accurate than their Toronto counterparts on two-point field goals, another disadvantage they weren’t able to make up elsewhere.
There’s a long list of offenders when trying to understand the team’s poor shooting performance, but none stand out quite like Evan Fournier. He was more cask wine than champagne on Friday night, missing his first 9 shots from the field and finishing with just 7 points on 1-12 shooting. Some of the early attempts were questionable, forced in a bid to overcome a stalling offense. As the misses racked up he then started to hesitate on even wide open looks, passing off or giving the defense an extra half-beat to recover. The Magic have needed more from him all series, and again tonight he was found lacking.
The Magic can shoot better. They have as recently as Game One. On Friday they were able to continue their strong (and surprising) play in getting to the free-throw line more frequently, while also doing a much better job of taking advantage of this (22-23 for almost 96% accuracy). If they can find a middle ground between the scorching long range shooting from the series opener and the frigidity of this most recent performance -- and the form they showed from deep over the second half of the season suggests this is a distinct possibility! -- they’ll be in a much stronger position to seriously challenge the Raptors.
Stars and Starters
Both Game Two and Three have featured some long runs that should worry the Magic, particularly when the starting units are squaring off. It only took a shade over two minutes for Orlando to find themselves down 10-0 in this one, a similar looking hole to the one the team dug for themselves during the last game in Toronto. On Friday the third quarter was also an area of concern, with the game slipping away from them during an extended stretch of barren basketball. What should be particularly troubling about this is that it’s happening with the starting unit on the floor.
Turnovers, poor shooting, and porous defense -- an unholy basketball trinity -- plagued the Magic starters in Game Three. They coughed the ball up four times in the game’s first five minutes, while also missing their first four shots from the field. When the first substitutions were made the score was 18-9 to Toronto, with Orlando already having missed 10 field goal attempts.
Even when Vucevic -- a missing man for the majority of the series -- finally turned up, his teammates failed to capitalize on the desperately needed production he was suddenly providing. Foul trouble for Marc Gasol led him to the bench, and with Serge Ibaka lining up across from him, Vooch took advantage. He established deep position and got some shots inside to fall, before stretching out to the arc and banging in a couple of triples for good measure. He ripped off 14 straight for the Magic, driving them to a one-point lead midway through the third.
Around this much needed offensive outburst came a whole heap of nothing. Players not named Vucevic combined to shoot just 1-15 from the field for the third quarter, failing to supplement the first real appearance from their All-Star big man. Some shocking defensive miscues lead to a number of easy Toronto buckets, and just four minutes later it was a 15 point deficit courtesy of a crippling 16-to-zip run by the rampant Raptors. Although the Magic would eventually claw their way back into the contest late in the fourth, it’s fair to say that this was the turning point.
With Vucevic so often MIA it would be relatively easy to construct an argument that Toronto has the best three (or even four) players in the series so far. Kawhi Leonard is an absolute monster, while Kyle Lowry has already well and truly bounced back after his Game One donut. On Friday it was the third member of this triumvirate, Pascal Siakam, who lead the beatdown of the Magic. He finished with 30 and 11 on 65% shooting, feasting on cuts and drives all game long. He abused Fourier when the two were matched up, shining brightly on a night when Gordon and the Magic managed to frustrate and contain Leonard. Having three players that are so eminently capable of taking over a game (which is to say nothing of the defensive menace that Gasol has been through three games) is a luxury that Orlando simply does not enjoy.
The advanced metrics across the first three games don’t paint a pretty picture when comparing the two sets of starters. Although both units have spent almost the same amount of time on the court (54 to 49 in Toronto’s favor), they’re minutes being emphatically won by the Raptors. In their shared court-time the Toronto five have put up an offensive rating of 125.7 and a defensive rating of 81.1, good for a net rating north of 40 over 100 possessions. By contrast, the Magic’s starters have posted an offensive rating of 88.1, while giving up 127.7 points per 100 defensive possessions. The end result for Orlando’s opening five is a diabolical net rating of -39.6,
These five-man lineups aren’t playing exclusively against each other, of course, but it’s safe to say that they are for a bulk of the time. That their offensive, defensive and net ratings are almost perfect reflections of each other is evidence of that. And in Game Three, much like it was in Game Two, the showdown between the two sets of starters was won comprehensively by the Raptors. What had been an area of strength for Orlando since the All-Star break -- the play of the starting five -- has swiftly and decisively been turned into a pronounced disadvantage, a fact that leaves the season precariously balanced.
A Better Bench
Coming into this series, there was a real worry that the Orlando reserves would be run off the court by a deeper and more talented Toronto outfit. While that hasn’t exactly been the case, it is still fair to say that the Magic need more significant contributions from those further down the bench if they’re to stay alive in this series.
Outside of Terrence Ross, who is effectively a starter in all but name, the deficiencies of Orlando’s bench were exposed in this game. A quick glance at plus-minus figures doesn’t really capture this, primarily because of the fact that they happened to share the court with Ross during the second quarter when he rattled off bucket after bucket. However, the other three who played failed to make much of an impact on a game that ultimately was there for the taking.
Wes Iwundu and MIchael Carter-Williams both shot poorly, essentially being dared by the Toronto defenders to launch from distance. By ignoring them on the perimeter the Raptors were able to clog the lane and take away space closer to the hoop, which in turn impacted the effectiveness of Khem Birch as a roll man and the play-making starters they shared the floor with. Both Iwundu and MCW shot 1-5 from the field, while Birch had to settle for a pair of free throws. All up, the trio had just 9 points in a combined 37 minute.
Toronto’s bench weren’t much better on Friday, and haven’t been so yet in the series. However, considering the struggle of the starters Orlando would desperately be hoping to see more effective play from their untested trio of reserves. A win in these minutes would help the cause immensely.
Now down in the series, the Magic will need to come out ready to play in Game 4. A 3-1 deficit is essentially a death sentence, which makes Sunday’s match up as close to a literal must-win as we can get. They’ve already defied the odds a number of times this season, but do they have one more spurt in them? We’ll find out on Sunday.