At this stage, the talent has well and truly separated itself. Toronto continued their dominance of their playoff-inexperienced counterparts, pummeling the Magic into submission on the back of dominant second and fourth quarters. Orlando had no answers for the opposition’s star wattage, with Kawhi Leonard again taking center stage on his way to a brutally efficient 34 points. The game followed a familiar script, with many of the same ghosts haunting the Floridian faithful as it unfolded. Let’s explore (again) some of the key takeaways.
If you’re looking to pinpoint one factor as an explanation for Sunday night’s ugly loss, this might it. For a third consecutive contest Orlando simply failed to control the ball, turning over possessions at a rate well above what the regular season metrics would have had us expect. The pressure demonstrated by Toronto at this end of the court is a major contributor, but so to is a lack of execution on behalf of the Magic players. Many of the turnovers were simply a result of lazy play.
Orlando coughed up possession in a multitude of ways in Game Four. Once again they had four in the game’s first five minutes, and only avoided falling behind big by making a heap of early shots. They threw careless entry passes into the post. They struggled against the blitz of double teams. They failed to account for outstretched arms when swinging the ball to the wing. At one point they even tossed it away on a lazy inbounds from near half court that turned into a Fred VanVleet fastbreak the other way. It was a maddening cacophony of low-IQ basketball plays.
The Raptors deserve a lot of credit for ratcheting up the intensity and forcing the Magic into many of these mistakes. Players like Leonard and Marc Gasol had their hands in seemingly every passing lane, creating numerous deflections that brought offensive possessions to an early end. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Orlando were actually their own worst enemy in this regard; there were less of these sequences where the ball handler was obviously flustered, and more that were the result of simply not being switched on and cutting corners. That’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster against a long and athletic team like Toronto.
There were offenders up and down the roster in this one. Evan Fournier continued a relatively poor series by committing four turnovers. Terrence Ross had three off the bench. The point guards, D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams, combined for four more. Four other players had at least one. All up Orlando racked up 17 turnovers that resulted directly in 21 Toronto points. They lost by 22.
By comparison, their Canadian counterparts were much more careful and effective with the ball in hand. Although they committed 14 for the game, the reality was that the discrepancy between the sides was much greater. Of those 14, Jeremy Lin accounted for three in the game’s final two minutes, when the benches cleared and the result was done. Kyle Lowry was then responsible for six of the remaining 11, showing just how effective much of the Raptors’ roster was at getting to the end of possessions. Pascal Siakam had just two and Leonard only one, while a handful of others kept that line in their box score clear. When you contrast that with Orlando -- who saw everyone who played major minutes except for Wes Iwundu cough it up at least once -- you can see how definitively they lost this battle.
The talent deficit in this series is such that the Magic have to play clean and purposeful basketball on just about every possession if they’re a chance of winning. On Sunday night they didn’t get close.
Dialing in the Defense
Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Toronto are an incredibly good defensive side. They’ve got length, strength and athleticism at seemingly every spot on the floor, and an incredible ability to switch whatever they need to and run hard doubles when the opportunity presents. Orlando are a team that have prided themselves on their collective defensive ability this season, yet if you were picking an all-defense side from the series, the Raptors might account for 4 of the first 5 selections. They’re that good, and as they’ve ramped things up the Magic have been unable to adjust.
So why haven’t the Magic been able to turn the defensive dial up an extra notch or two? Well, what we’re seeing is evidence that they were already likely playing at something very close to capacity in this regard. Steve Clifford is known as a coach that has previously squeezed greater regular season success than expected out of a squad, with the same evidently happening here in Orlando. Plus, the roster isn’t exactly littered with great individual defenders. The hyper-focused nature of the playoffs has punched some holes in what had been an effective unit.
I hate to pile on one player, particularly when it’s not their forte, but Evan Fournier was particularly woeful in terms of his individual defense in Game Four. He was roasted in seemingly every matchup, with Siakam, Leonard and even Norman Powell all taking turns blasting past him for uncontested shots at the rim. Danny Green again caught him snoozing on a handful of off-ball cuts. There was even one particularly dispiriting possession when defending Siakam on the low post when he basically seemed to give up on the play, stepping in a way that gave him an unimpeded drive to the hoop. Maybe he was expecting a help rotation, but regardless, it looked bad: effortless and uninspired.
Fournier isn’t the only problem. Vucevic has been unreliable as a rim deterrent throughout this series, and he struggles immensely anytime Toronto runs a pick-and-roll involving Leonard as the primary ballhander. Jonathan Isaac, probably the team’s best individual defender, couldn’t stay on the floor; he picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and ended up playing only 16 minutes (even though he finished with only three). The Raptors also missed some wide open three-point attempts in this one, so the end result could have been ever worse. A playoff series has provided Toronto with plenty of time to figure out how they want to attack the Orlando defense, and it simply hasn’t held up as well as it did in the regular season.
Orlando have just a solitary win in this series, one that came on the back of some hot shooting from deep and a strong presence at the free throw line. Game Four was the inverse performance that we all worried about, with the team failing to generate much at all from either spot on the floor.
Although they were better inside the arc and at the rim, Orlando simply couldn’t make a long-range triple on Sunday. As a team they shot just 7-for-33 from deep, a frigid 21.2%. Fournier was 2 of 8 and Terrence Ross just 1 of 4, while Vucevic failed to make either of his attempts. D.J. Augustin was again well-contained on the perimeter, finding himself free for such shots on only three occasions (making one). Clean looks weren’t easily found, and Fournier continued his frustrating tendency of passing down the initial shot to dribble into something a little more difficult. Toronto enjoyed a 12 point advantage from long distance while not requiring as many attempts, testament to the efficiency of their offense on the night.
Outside of Gordon and Fournier, the Magic struggled to find a dependable contributor. Isaac went scoreless in his 16 minutes. Vucevic finished 5-for-14. Ross had a single basket -- a buzzer-beating heave at the end of the third -- on five attempts. The bench again was quiet, with Michael Carter-Williams, Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch combining for just 11 points. There were numerous sequences where they simply couldn’t buy a bucket against a locked-in and aggressive Toronto defense.
The Magic also struggled to make up these missing points from the charity stripe, only getting to the line 13 times on the night. The starters combined for just eight attempts, a number well short of the success they had enjoyed during previous games in the series. There was a seeming reluctance to get into the guts of the Raptors’ defense, and too often the team settled for attempts from range. Ultimately, the percentages reflect Toronto’s dominance in this one. For Orlando, 42% from the field, 21% from deep and 77% from the line; the Raptors finished at 53%, 39% and 89%.
Make or miss. We’ve said it before, and it was true again on Sunday night.
And so we head back to the frigid north, down 3-1 in the series and facing a potential home court close-out by a team that have shown themselves to be a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. Stranger things have happened, but it’s a long way back for the Magic at this point. If they’re going to extend it any further they’ll need to make shots, protect the ball, and hope their defense can find another gear. Have they got it in them?