The Magic lost a heartbreaker in Toronto on Friday night, roaring back in the game’s final moments only to come up agonizingly short when the final siren sounded. For a young team that figures to take a number of lumps across the season, anytime a win slips through the fingers it’s going to make for painful reflection. What could have been, what should have been, what ultimately was not.
With a shade over a minute to play it was a quick-trigger Jalen Suggs drive and some strong offensive glass work from Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. that clawed back two points and initially stoked the thought of an improbable comeback. Let’s pick the action up from the Magic’s next possession with the ball in hand and unpack the way these sequences broke down.
52.0 seconds remain: the one where Suggs completes a four-point play
With 1:03 on the clock Carter Jr. scoops up the rebound after OG Anunoby’s jumper draws front iron. It was a solid sequence from the big man, staying in front of the Toronto forward and making enough contact to shift his opponent’s attempt a foot or two further away from the basket than it otherwise might have been from. He quickly hits Cole Anthony with an outlet pass and the Magic are off to the races against the backpedaling Raptors.
Anthony crosses halfcourt and comes back towards the center of the floor, using a screen from WCJ that gets just enough of Gary Trent Jr. to force a switch. He accelerates when he spots Scottie Barnes, who gets his body into position but fails to either keep up or use his hands to corral the Magic’s point guard. This forces Fred Van Vleet, himself caught in a mismatch on Bamba, to slide across and meet the drive, which he successfully does. Toronto’s rotations elsewhere are also on point, with Dalano Banton staying in position to negate a potential kickout to Franz Wagner, and Anunoby and Trent Jr. collapsing to take away the easy lob over to Bamba.
These rotations, however, have now resulted in a Toronto defense that is exclusively positioned below the free throw line and largely in the painted area. Barnes clocks off after Anthony gets by him, a decision that proves fatal as he’s then not in position to trap the ballhandler or even pressure the kickout pass to come — he’s essentially reduced to a passive observer in no man’s land. Anthony recognizes the now unmarked Carter Jr., who had trailed to the top of the arc after setting the screen that unstuck his teammate in the first place. The big man shows zero hesitation in whipping the ball to the unmarked Suggs on the wing, who had filled to the three point line just above the break.
Barnes and Anunoby are both too far away to make a meaningful contest but race out anyway, a decision made all the worse by OG’s decision to jump at Suggs’ jumper. The momentum of the Magic’s rookie’s shooting stroke carries him forward a foot or so, enough to collect the leaping Toronto defender and ensure he draws a whistle. Shortly after it sounds the ball splashes through the net, an ice-cold free throw moments later capping the four-point play. It’s now 110-106 in Toronto’s favor and Orlando are in with a chance. A drive, a kick, and an extra pass have done their job.
43.4 seconds remain: the one where Suggs blocks Anunoby at the rim
Elite shot blocking guard Jalen Suggs pic.twitter.com/ps7r871jXM— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) October 30, 2021
Toronto stretches the floor way out on the next possession, putting a shooter in each corner and their two primary playmakers high on either wing. Orlando initially mans up, but when Anunoby moves to the nail with the seeming intent of providing a ball screen, Bamba anticipates and rushes to double Van Vleet with the ball. The crafty Raptors’ point guard immediately recognizes this and tilts the court with a cross pass to Barnes, which necessitates a rotation from Carter Jr. that threatens to give Anunoby an almost uncontested roll to the hoop. That’s exactly what happens, and with 44.8 left the ball is lofted inside to Toronto’s forward, unmarked and without a single Magic defender ahead of him in the painted area.
Anunoby catches the ball just half a second later with one foot already in the restricted zone, with the prospect of a made basket basically closing the door on the contest rife in his mind. However, Suggs has already read this play perfectly, recognizing the danger and leaving his man in the corner to race in for a contest at the rim. He shows incredible pace to meet the Raptor as he catches the entry pass, getting a beautifully clean swat with his left hand that takes the ball out of the opposition’s grasp entirely. Bamba cleans up the loose carom and seconds later the Magic are off again with Anthony at the helm.
This was an amazing individual defensive effort, and one that really had no right coming to fruition. Toronto read the play and the angles with precision, only to be denied by a sensational play that few could have made in that moment. Suggs’ four-point play was really just a case of ‘right place, right time’. This was something else, and speaks to elevated basketball instincts.
32.5 seconds remain: the one where Wagner drills a corner three
This is a deceptively simple sequence, but one that will likely resonate because of how the final possession ultimately went, perhaps the result of one major difference. With Anthony settling into the halfcourt against a set Toronto defense, the Magic spread the weakside with three shooters behind the arc; this gives Cole a chance to isolate against his direct matchup, a fact that Wagner notices just in the nick of time, allowing him to vacate the driving lane and stretch to the strong corner.
Once the game is reduced to a one-on-one contest Anthony simply gives Van Vleet a quick duke, getting over the defender’s hips with a burst of speed and change of direction. Banton correctly slides to help stop the penetration, but this leaves Wagner all alone in the corner. Cole kicks, Franz fires, and the margin is now just a single point.
This one required a clean shot at the end of it, but it really was just as simple as spacing the floor and letting a player flash their individual talents. Anthony made a play that Wagner was good enough to finish, against a defense that hadn’t been afforded the opportunity to talk things through with their coaching staff. With the Magic needing a bucket to extend this contest further, they got it off the back of instinct and execution in the natural game flow.
11.7 seconds remain: the one where the Magic get the stop they need
Nursing a one point lead and with two possessions left in the game, the Raptors elect against using their last time out and instead put the ball in the hands of the championship-tested Van Vleet. They dial up what is ostensibly 1-5 ball screen action with Barnes as the pick, although they’re obviously pretty position-less by this stage. Bamba stays under while Anthony attempts to fight over, but the young guard gets hung up ever so slightly and Van Vleet capitalizes with a quick turn of speed. Anthony is toast, Bamba never really manages to cut the ball handler off, so instead the Raptor gets all the way into the teeth of the defense where he is met by WCJ as the last line of resistance.
Van Vleet recognizes that rotations have left Anunoby wide open just above the break, so he turns and kicks to the isolated shooter. Fortunately for the Magic his attempt is just an inch too long, and Bamba is able to use his long limbs to secure the board (despite failing to put a body on the crashing Barnes). The Basketball Gods blessed the Magic with one last shot at an unlikely upset.
0.0 seconds remain: the one where Anthony misses the potential game-winner
Down one, in the bonus, and facing a scrambling Raptors defense, the ball finds its way into Suggs’ hands with 8.7 ticks still showing. He hits half court at the 6.0 mark, and is being matadored into the waiting help defense at the nail by 5.8. Wagner is already deep in the corner from which he just nailed a huge three, while Bamba and Anthony are both trailing the play with no defender yet clearly committed to covering these possibilities; the Raptors are all understandably much more worried about the drive taking place (WCJ is in the dunker’s spot, for full clarity).
Instead of rolling with the opportunity that had naturally manifested, Head Coach Jamahl Mosley calls for a timeout from the bench. The Magic head to the huddle, emerging a minute later with the same five and a plan. With Wagner as the trigger man they run some screening action that results in a defensive switch for Anthony, who pops high to receive the inbounds pass. He gathers cleanly enough, but in bringing the ball back across his body he affords Trent Jr. the opportunity to poke at the ball — which he does, dislodging it and sending it careening into the backcourt. Anthony cleans up and manages to get as good a half court look as one could produce under the circumstances, but the Hail Mary attempt is wide and the comeback falls agonizingly short.
It’s hard to argue with the final play. It got the ball into the hands of Orlando’s most dangerous scorer, and the floor was spread in such a way to let him attack into space. The switch out of the screen wasn’t exactly optimal — Trent Jr. is a little longer than Van Vleet, who had been torched on a couple of plays already — but it also shouldn’t have presented a huge problem. Anthony arguably made a mistake by bringing the ball across his waist in cramped quarters (instead of rolling his body to get back to the inside), but nine times out of ten it probably doesn’t end in this outcome. All in all, it was pretty unfortunate.
However, it is fair to raise some questions about the decision making that ultimately drew it up. The Magic pulled the pin on the game’s natural flow in calling timeout, giving them an opportunity to set up and realign the floor but also gifting the opposition a chance to square away their own assignments. It would also be reasonable to suggest that if the team needed a huddle, they should have called for it almost five seconds earlier when Bamba hauled in the game’s final rebound with 11.6 seconds still to play. Considering just how valuable time was at the end of things, this stands out as a major misstep.
Also unmissable is the fact that the Magic finished this game with one timeout still at their disposal. After the ball came free from Anthony’s grasp he was able to regather with 2.8 ticks still on the clock — that the team didn’t call timeout at this point is particularly egregious. Three seconds can be an absolute eternity in an NBA game, and this would have allowed the side to regain their composure, draw up something with a new wrinkle, and potentially generate a cleaner look than a half-court heave. In a frenetic sequence with the players scrambling the clock was seemingly forgotten, a stark contrast to the micromanagement of the possession only moments earlier.
To be clear, these final seconds aren’t the reason the Magic lost. Instead, it would be much more instructive to point to the disaster of the Hampton minutes, or the lopsided turnover count, or the sweet shooting of the Raptors to open the fourth. Still, this was a night on which the youthful players actually executed things pretty well down the stretch of a tight contest, only to see another element of the team’s game management bobble the chance away.
The entire team, from the players through to the coaching staff, should be pleased with the way this Magic battled back; it speaks of a resilience and a character that they’re building with every game. However, the final moments of Friday night’s tilt also demonstrate the multitude of ways in which this team can still improve.