One could get the sense heading into the fourth quarter that if the Magic could just find some consistency on the defensive end, they were going to ultimately pull ahead and get a much needed win Monday night before heading out on the road for nine days (four games).
But, oh boy - the exact opposite of that happened.
The Magic were run out of their own arena in the fourth quarter by the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, turning a four-point deficit at the end of the third into a 23-point blowout loss
in embarrassing fashion.
“So obviously that was incredibly disappointing, I didn’t see it coming,” Orlando head coach Steve Clifford said during his post-game conference. “We haven’t played ‘Magic defense’ here for a while.”
CJ McCollum had 41 points (14-24 FGA’s, 6-12 3PTA’s), 5 rebounds, and 5 assists for the Trail Blazers, tying his season-high in a game. Monday was the second time McCollum has eclipsed 40 points in Portland’s last five contests.
Gary Trent Jr. added 24 points (4-6 3PTA’s) for Portland, the second-highest single-game points total of his career.
Portland got whatever they wanted on the offensive end, finishing the game shooting 55.7% from the field, 16 for 33 from behind the arc (48.5% 3PT%), and 16 for 16 from the free throw line.
Orlando’s first two defensive possessions proved to be an omen for how the entire first half would play out. Portland treated the painted area like a pregame lay-up line, converting two uncontested attempts at the rim.
After spotting Portland the first seven points of the game, Nikola Vucevic scored 10 of Orlando’s next 17 points, as he attempted to drag Hassan Whiteside out of the lane with multiple outside jump shots.
That’s when McCollum started to take over. Playing without his All-Star back-court mate Damian Lillard, McCollum had the green light to let it fly Monday night against the Magic. The seventh-year guard primarily hurt the home team from the perimeter early in the contest, as he knocked-down multiple three point attempts while the Magic continued to go under screens.
The Lehigh product scored 17 points in the first quarter, including four three-point field goals (4 for 5 3PTA’s), marking the highest first quarter point total any Orlando opponent has scored this season.
The Blazers continued to fill-it up in the second quarter, shooting 59 percent from the floor. However, the Magic were able to keep themselves in the game with timely three-point shooting.
Terrence Ross continued his recent strong play, scoring ten straight points and 13 of 17 points for the Magic to begin the second quarter.
In fact, as a team, the Magic shot the basketball more efficiently from behind the three-point line (10-25 3PTA’s) than from inside of the arc (10-26 2PTA’s) in the first half.
Orlando began the second half on a mini-6-0 run, but then the injury-bug appeared to hurt the Magic once again. Already playing without Aaron Gordon (and Jonathan Isaac, of course), Vucevic suffered what seemed to be an injury to his right elbow after setting a hard screen on Trevor Ariza.
Luckily, Vucevic was back in the game for the Magic just a few possessions later. Orlando’s starting center was an offensive bright spot Monday night, tying his season-high with 30 points (12-24 FGA, 3-4 FTA’s).
Markelle Fultz was a huge factor for the Magic in the third quarter, scoring five points and dishing-out five assists in just over seven minutes in the period. Orlando was able to cut Portland's lead to just two points, thanks to a Fultz steal off an errant inbound-pass, which led to a James Ennis transition layup (set-up by Orlando’s starting point guard).
D.J. Augustin came into the game for the third-year guard with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter. Fultz didn’t return to the game until just over five minutes were remaining in the fourth quarter. Portland outscored the Magic 32-21 over that near eleven minute span.
Clifford defended his decision to keep Fultz out of the game for so long afterwards, citing his preference to have Michael Carter-Williams on the floor to match-up defensively with McCollum.
By the time Fultz returned, the game was pretty much out of reach. Portland went on a 25-11 run before Orlando opted to call timeout and clear their bench with just over three minutes remaining in the contest.
Portland outscored the Magic 38-19 in the game’s final period.
Former Magic draft pick Mario Hezonja scored 10 points in 28 minutes off Portland’s bench.
According to Orlando’s PR department, McCollum’s 41 points tonight tied a record set last season by Lillard for most points ever scored by a Blazers’ player in a game against the Magic.
“We’re not good enough offensively to beat the best offensive teams in this league by just trying to outscore them,” Clifford added after the game. “And if we don’t start defending, it’s going to be hard..forget seventh (seed)...hard to make the playoffs.”
Clifford's team still needs to make stops in Miami, Charlotte, and Houston before week’s end.
I know we all get a case of the Mondays now and then. Let’s hope for Orlando’s sake they turn the rest of their week around by getting back to who they are on the defensive end of the floor.