Sometimes it’s good to have the best player on the floor on your team, simple as that.
For the Toronto Raptors, having Kawhi Leonard on their team Sunday night was a very good thing. Behind a dominant effort from Leonard on both ends of the floor, the Raptors were able to win another game on Orlando’s home floor in Game 4, easily defeating the Magic 107-85.
“It was great, road wins are the best, especially in the playoffs” Leonard told reporters from the podium after the game. “But we all know the job isn’t done yet.”
Leonard led the Raptors with 34 points (12-20 FG), rebounding from a sub-par effort in Game 3.
Norman Powell was also huge for the Raptors, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes off the bench for Toronto (+14).
“We trust everybody and we trust their game and that helped us,” Powell said after the game. “Our chemistry is trusting one another. We go out there knowing Kawhi is going to get hot and close out games for us.”
Two of Coach Clifford’s main goals for his team at the start of the game were to get off to a fast start and take care of the ball.
The first goal was accomplished. But the second one? Not so much.
The Magic made their first five shots and jumped out to a 9-1 lead over the Raptors. But turnovers, which have been a problem for Orlando all series, again reared their ugly head early in this game.
Orlando turned the ball over four times in the game’s first five minutes, the third straight contest they’ve started rather sloppily.
A turning point in the first quarter came at the 8:05 mark when forward Jonathan Isaac was charged with his second personal foul. The Magic, who were leading the Raptors 11-5 at that point, were outscored 23-15 the rest of the quarter with Isaac sitting on the bench.
“It sucks, that’s never how you want to start a game,” Isaac said in the locker room after the game when asked about his early foul trouble. “It does mess up your rhythm, but that’s no excuse. I put myself in that position. I’ve got to be smarter, got to be better.”
Leonard (9 points in period) and Pascal Siakam feasted in the first quarter. Siakam especially took advantage of Orlando’s foul troubles, scoring six points early when Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross were forced to match-up with the emerging big-man.
All in all, Orlando’s six first quarter turnovers led to eight Toronto points. Reserve Michael Carter-Williams knocked down a jumper as the first quarter horn sounded, drawing the Magic within two points at the conclusion of the game’s first twelve minutes.
Isaac quickly picked up his third foul early in the second quarter, which forced Clifford to go to Jarell Martin for the second time in the series. Martin gave the Magic an unexpected lift for a fleeting moment, blocking a Kyle Lowry jump-shot, grabbing an offensive rebound, and burying a corner three-point attempt in a stretch of thirty seconds.
The Magic did a much better job of taking care of the basketball in the second quarter, but defensive rebounding problems started to emerge for the home team (again).
The Magic were burned on consecutive Raptors offensive possessions by simply failing to box out. Serge Ibaka wrestled a ball away from Khem Birch in the paint and layed it in, and then Leonard tipped a ball out to the perimeter on Toronto’s next possession - which led to a Powell three-point field goal.
“I totally agree with you,” Clifford said when asked about his team’s lack of defensive rebounding during key stretches of tonight’s game. “You could make an argument that Game Three the biggest difference was their fourth quarter offensive rebounding. The same thing tonight. The first timeout, the two things I talked to them about - (we had good energy) we were turning the ball over too much and we weren't hitting them at all.”
“If we don’t win the rebounding game by a pretty significant margin, it’s not going to happen for us,” Clifford added.
An Orlando side out-of-bounds turnover early in the third quarter, which led to an uncontested Leonard breakaway dunk, put Toronto's margin at 19 points.
Aaron Gordon really stood out in the third quarter, leading Orlando’s then-sinking offense. Gordon grinded away, keeping Orlando in the game with 16 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in the period. During one stretch, he grabbed a rebound and led his own secondary fast-break, which resulted in a D.J. Augustin three-point make. Gordon jumped in the passing lanes on Toronto’s next offensive possession, slamming the ball home and waking up an Amway crowd that was starting to lose it’s enthusiasm.
The Magic played admirably in the third quarter, but they continued to have no answer for Leonard. The All-Star forward was the best player on the floor, scoring 12 of his 34 points in the period.
“This series, it’s a lot about imposing your will on the other team,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said after the game. “They make a run, and Kawhi goes down and gets those three buckets in a row. It’s a little bit of imposing your will. They make a run, but you’ve got to get stops. And we’ve got a really good player that’s going to get us baskets when we need them.”
Orlando created a little momentum for themselves heading into the game’s final twelve minutes, thanks to a buzzer-beating heave from Terrence Ross (his first and only field goal of the game).
But that momentum ended abruptly. Toronto blitzed Orlando at the beginning of the fourth quarter, coming out on a 14-5 run to begin the period.
An Ibaka hook shot in the paint with just over six minutes remaining gave Toronto their largest lead of the game at 21 points (at that point).
Clifford emptied his bench at the 2:52 mark, and Game 4 was history.
Gordon played fantastic for the Magic, finishing with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. But he didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates.
“That’s never the thought process,” Gordon said at the podium after the game when asked about the way he took over in the third quarter. “Just being aggressive, my teammates did a great job finding me. They gave me the rock, and I was just taking what the defense was giving me.”
“We’re going to watch the film and we’re going to go over how we can play better as a team. That’s what we’ve been doing all year, winning games collectively (as a team),” Gordon added.
Now it’s back up to Toronto for the Magic, needing another win on the road to keep their season alive. The Magic have won twice already in Toronto this year, once in the regular season, and then in dramatic fashion in Game 1 of this series.
“To me, what I just said in the locker room is we can do one of two things,” Clifford added after the game. “We can either do the proverbial, we’re down 3-1, we have to win two in Toronto, say we are going to fight no matter what and then if we get down 10, stop fighting. Or, we can really fight. But we won’t know until adversity hits in two nights.”