Sometimes one guy can almost single handedly break a team.
The Orlando Magic found that out the hard way on Sunday night when Kawhi Leonard terrorized them on both sides of the ball, almost single handedly leading the Toronto Raptors to a convincing win in game four, and giving them a strangle hold on their first round series.
After getting off to their best start since game one, Leonard quickly squashed any dreams the Magic had of making a real push to knock off the heavily favored Raptors on their home court. The Raptors All-Star took the game over offensively, and showed off why he was a former Defensive Player of the Year on the other end.
As the game wore on, Leonard was able to continue to get whatever he wanted on the offensive end, finishing with 30 points through the first three quarter. Every time the Magic would make a run and cut the Raptors lead down to 10 or 12, Toronto would answer with buckets from Leonard on almost every possession.
“He’s a great player man, there’s nothing you can really say about that,” said D.J. Augustin when asked if it broke the will of the team. “We’ve just got to try our best to contain him and limit him. I think AG [Aaron Gordon] has been playing great defense on him, but he’s one of those guys in the league that there’s not much you can do. You just have to try and control the other guys that go along with him.”
As Leonard continued to hit shot after shot, Gordon tried to match him in the second half. Gordon took the game over for the Magic offensively in the third, scoring 16 of his team-high 25 in the quarter.
Yet, despite Gordon’s best efforts, it was never enough. Every time the Magic would get it down with a chance to get it under double digits, Leonard would push the lead right back up.
“He was great tonight.” said Nikola Vucevic on Leonard. “He’s a hell of a player. He can score in a lot of ways. I think we could’ve helped AG a little bit better on some stuff in the pick-and-rolls, could’ve done a better job on stuff when he’s driving. But he’s a great player and a tough matchup. He can score in different ways, he’s seen a lot of different defense’s thrown at him.”
After Gordon shut down Leonard, who was battling the flu in game three, it was unlikely that the Magic would be able to contain the former Finals MVP once again.
Things weren’t made any easier for the Magic as they lost Jonathan Isaac early in the second quarter to his third personal foul. Minutes later, Gordon picked up his third of the half, and took the Magic out of any rhythm they could hope to build.
Now, down 3-1, the Magic have to travel back to Toronto in a must win game to save their season.
It’s not the first time this season their backs have been against the wall and they’ve answered. But, this time will be much tougher than any time during the season.
Still, despite dropping both games at home after wrestling home court away with the win in game one, the Magic know what they have to do to get ready for game five.
“We’ve got to regroup,” said Terrence Ross. “We’ve got to do it fast and we have to watch film to understand better what we need to do. We have a way to play and I think we’ve just got to figure that out because they’re throwing all sorts of coverages at us, but we’ve got to figure something out.”
Watching the film and figuring something out was the message that most players, as well as coach Clifford stressed as they head into game five.
“We’ve always been good playing with our backs against the wall,” said Gordon. “The message is to go out there and get a win, and then come back and bring it back to our home floor. You know, if we can accomplish that, I feel like it’s anybodies series as long as we can get back to out home floor and play another game here.”
Sunday night was disappointing for the Magic as they continued to try and build on the season they’ve had. Kawhi Leonard had his way with them for much of the night, and there was just no way for them to answer a player of his calibre.
Now, with their backs against the wall and their season slowly slipping away, we’ll find out just how resilient this Magic team is in Game Five.