And so it ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors bundled the Magic out of the playoffs on Tuesday night, taking control in the first few minutes and simply never letting up. They throttled Orlando’s key contributors, playing suffocating defense and seemingly getting buckets at will with the ball in hand. The lead hit double figures early, ballooned to 20 at halftime, and topped 30 before the benches cleared. It was a rout, and a classic example of a more talented team imposing their will in a series they didn’t want to linger any longer than necessary.
A plus/minus disaster
Let’s start with the easiest and most damning observation: Orlando’s starters were absolutely eviscerated by their Raptor counterparts. Continuing a trend seen throughout the series, the game was effectively over before it ever really got started, with the starters digging a hole so large in the opening minutes that it proved insurmountable.
If you were a couple of minutes late turning on the television for this one you would have been greeted by what was already a double-figure deficit. A Leonard three-point play put Toronto up 12-1 after just 2:53, a lead that ballooned to as many as 24 before the quarter was done. Orlando missed 12 shots during this opening frame, committed five turnovers, and tacked on a technical foul for good measure (although, to be fair, this wasn’t called on a starter, but instead the first man off the bench, Terrence Ross). That they were only (only!) down 16 at the first break was a minor miracle.
The opening to the third quarter was a slightly less painful stretch of basketball, but it still wasn’t good. After Leonard drilled a pair of makes from distance to push Toronto’s advantage to 26, Orlando’s starters were able to string together a short sequence of stops and makes of their own. An Evan Fournier bucket from just inside the lane cut the deficit to 17, but it was as close as the starters would get. The Raptors were up by 24 when the first substitution of the half came, and shortly after 30 when the next round of changes were made.
An examination of the plus/minus figures is like looking into a nightmare. Fournier was an unbelievable -42 for the game, Aaron Gordon finished at -32, while D.J. Augustin and Jonathan Isaac clocked off for the night at -27 and -22, respectively. Nikola Vucevic finished with an abominable -25 in just 17 minutes of court time, including a first quarter figure of -16 in just five minutes. Even Terrence Ross, the Magic’s ‘sixth starter’ and one of the more dependable shot makers on the night ended the contest 20 points into the red.
Toronto are an incredibly good side, legitimate contenders with talent at every position on the court. Their starting unit exudes star wattage, a fact which was incredibly evident when juxtaposed with their overmatched counterparts from Orlando. That they capitulated so absolutely was a shame, but evidence of the fact that further improvement from this group is necessary.
The trouble with fouls
Foul trouble is not the reason the Magic lost Game Five, but it certainly made any chance of a comeback virtually nonexistent. The whistles blew often and early in this one, and it was a matter of only minutes before Coach Steve Clifford had to start juggling his rotations.
Gordon headed to the bench once he picked up his second foul after just 4:16 of gametime, a result of a poor challenge and a frustrating offensive foul. Vucevic wasn’t too far behind him, checking out about a minute later after racking up a third foul in the game’s opening five minutes. He also had committed an offensive foul, complicating an already precarious situation for the side. Fouls while in possession took Orlando’s most talented players off the floor, while also limiting the chances they had at scoring the ball. It wasn’t a good combination.
Even though the starting unit were comprehensively outplayed, it’s these type of early fouls that can change the trajectory of a game or restrict a side’s chances of stealing some momentum. It limits the opportunities of key players. It creates a sense of tentativeness in the play of those on the floor. It sends the coach further down the bench looking for answers. When the margin for error is already as thin as it was heading into this contest you don’t want to make things any harder than they have to be. By committing some avoidable fouls the Magic didn’t do themselves any favors.
Missed shots and dead horses
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Orlando Magic shot incredibly poorly. This is something that has already been discussed in depth throughout the series, but Orlando’s shooting in Game Five put to rest any chance they had of extending the series. They shot just 38.6% from the field, 28.5% from deep, and 74.2% from the charity stripe. Toronto outpaced each of these metrics by at least 10%. Those are figures that are not conducive to winning basketball.
The players the Magic needed most to make shots simply didn’t. Vucevic continued his woeful series, posting just 9 points on 3-10 shooting. Gordon went 4-13 from the field, while both Fournier and Ross converted just 4 of their 11 attempts. Isaac was again basically invisible on offense, posting a whisper-quiet 3 points on 1-7 shooting. Khem Birch made buckets close to the hoop (9 points on 4-5 shooting) and Wes Iwundu played aggressively and got to the line (12 points buoyed by 5-5 free-throw shooting), but it wasn’t enough.
Basketball is a make or miss sport, a fact evident both on Tuesday night and all series long.
It’s going to be easy to focus on the demoralizing nature of the losses in this series, particularly after how Game Five played out. But it would be a disservice to do so; in 2019 the Magic pulled themselves out of the lottery doldrums, put a winning product on the floor, stole a playoff game against a more fancied opponent, and generated an enthusiasm and buzz around the franchise that hasn’t been seen in years. That’s impressive, and 4 games at the end of 87 shouldn’t overshadow everything that came before.
The Game Five loss ended the series. But for the first time in far too long the Magic begin their offseason with a real sense of optimism.