Coming off a pulsating win over LeBron and the Lakers, the Magic were keen to extend their success in Los Angeles to a second night. Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers posed a significant obstacle to overcome though, particularly on the second half of a back-to-back and in the midst of a long road trip. Injuries also weren’t making things any easier — Isaac, Aminu, MCW and Augustin all remained sidelined — although the return of Evan Fournier from a quad complaint was certainly a positive. Did the Magic have the goods to once again topple a highly-fancied opponent?
The story of the opening quarter was the torrid shooting pace that the Clippers established early. As a team they hit 5 of their first 6 three-point attempts, shooting at a rate better than 70% from the field for most of the period (they finished at 59.1% in the quarter). The Magic were unable to contain LA’s pick-and-roll action, with Leonard getting whatever look he wanted at any point. He had 14 points on 6-7 shooting at the break, torching Khem Birch, Markelle Fultz and Aaron Gordon on various possessions. Surprisingly, the Magic were able to stay in touch despite shooting just 41.7% as a team, largely on the back some timely triples from Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross. It was 34-26 at the first break, a number that flattered Orlando a little.
When Ross drilled another triple to open the second, things were looking good. However, that’s when the offense entirely dried up for Orlando and what was once a close contest ballooned to a 20-point deficit. The Magic missed 9 straight shots (with an offensive turnover in there as well) before a Gordon triple finally broke the drought. Compounding this was the team’s complete inability to stop the two-man game of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who chewed up Orlando’s defense on a steady diet of pick-and-rolls. The duo combined for 15 points in the quarter’s first 6 minutes, staking the Clippers to a huge lead as Leonard re-entered the fray. Things were looking grim.
Vucevic was doing what he could to keep the Magic in it, but LA simply continued to hit shots. Leonard was the primary culprit but he also received support from Landry Shamet, who had a pair of nice makes in the period. A few late points from Fournier bridged the gap a little, but Orlando were still a long way behind, with the scoreboard showing 67-48 at the half in LA’s favour. Leonard had 22 at the break, supported by Shamet’s 11 and Pat Beverley’s 10 to go with 7 assists. For the Magic, Vucevic had 16 and 5 rebounds, Gordon had 12 and 5 assists, and Fournier had 8, 2 and 2. Perhaps most telling was the field goal percentage of each team, with the Clippers converting 55.3% of their attempts but the Magic just 36.2%. Ouch.
If Orlando were going to get back into it, the opening minutes of the third quarter would be incredibly important. However, the period played out much like those that came before. Leonard continued to dominate the game, forcing turnovers at one end and draining baskets at the other. He was supported by LA’s bigs, Ivica Zubac, Patrick Patterson and Harrell, who chipped in a combined 11 in the quarter. For Orlando, the poor shooting night for everyone other than Vucevic and Gordon largely continued, and the team struggled to score consistently enough to make any sort of sizeable inroads into the deficit. Fultz was able to generate a little individual momentum, with a strip and slam providing the main highlight. A late 8-0 run fueled by a pair of Fournier drives and a Ross triple piqued some interest, but the gap was still 15 at the end of the third, Orlando down 91-76.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter never rose to any great heights. The Magic leaned on Ross to get back into it, but there was only so much he could do. As they did earlier, LA’s bigs continued to dominate on offense, with Harrell and JaMychal Green going to work around the rim. The pair combined for 21 in the quarter, owning the offensive glass and getting basically whatever they wanted in the paint. Orlando’s bench emptied after a timeout with four-minutes-and-change to play, sputtering inevitably in garbage time towards chicken sandwiches and a 122-95 finish.
Amile Jefferson is the chicken sandwich Santa Claus.— Garrett Townsend (@garrtown) January 17, 2020
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Aaron Gordon — Had 20 points on 8-11 shooting, including 4-5 from deep. Also added 5 assists to this, but was pretty ineffectual in his coverage of Leonard. Still, he stood out on a lackluster Magic side.
Second star: Nikola Vucevic — Finished with 22, 9 and 4, and during some stretches was the only reliable offense Orlando could muster. He struggled mightily in the second half to protect the paint, but by that time the game was out of hand.
Third star: Terrence Ross — Put up 16 points on pretty inefficient shooting numbers, but gave the team the smallest of chances with a nice stretch early in the second half. Was noticeably energetic with his defense during these sequences as well.
This was an understandable yet disappointing result. One night after a draining and emotional win the team simply lacked in both energy and execution, getting rolled by a dangerous and multi-faceted opponent. Orlando will now look to regroup before Saturday’s tilt against the Warriors, knowing that they still have a good chance to secure a winning road trip. Let’s hope they do.