Magic Falter Late in Cleveland

By John Denton
Jan. 2, 2014

CLEVELAND – For most of Thursday night, the Orlando Magic gamely overcame the absence of starting center Nikola Vucevic by sharing the ball beautifully and sharing the rebounding load with a solid team effort.

But what they couldn’t overcome in snowy and frigid Cleveland was the chilling feeling of squandering a 10-point lead in the final 94 seconds of regulation. Ultimately, that led to a crushing overtime loss that should have been a victory.

Pushed to overtime after the fourth-quarter faltering, the Magic couldn’t muster any offense and suffered one of their most frustrating defeats of the season. Orlando scored just two points in the extra period, adding to its frustration of blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, in a perplexing 87-81 loss to Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena.

Orlando (10-22) scored just three points in the final 6 minutes, 34 seconds of regulation and overtime combined.

``We blew it, bottom line,’’ Magic forward Tobias Harris fumed. ``They made shots out there toward the end of the game. … We did have it. That’s tough. That was our game, the whole game. No ifs, ands or buts about it. That’s our game and we let that one slip. And we can’t get it back.’’

The Magic led 78-68 lead with 1:34 to play in regulation, but let the advantage get away from them when they scored just one point the rest of regulation.

What particularly upset Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was that he didn’t call a timeout with 13.9 seconds remaining and the Magic up 79-75 while taking the ball out of bounds. Harris couldn’t get the ball in and rather than using one of the Magic’s two remaining 20-second timeouts, a five-second violation was called.

``I’ll take this one, for sure,’’ Vaughn said, blaming himself for not calling timeout himself. ``This is one where you say `stay together,’ that’s really got to be focus. This one is going to hurt, hurt for a little bit. We have to continue to encourage each other and pick each other up.’’

Orlando still had a chance to seal the game in regulation, but reserve point guard E’Twaun Moore missed two free throws with 9.3 seconds left and Orlando up two points.

That allowed Cleveland guard Dion Waiters to tie the game with six-tenths of a second remaining when he drove past Arron Afflalo for a layup. Nelson got off a desperation heave at the horn, but it missed to send the game into overtime.

``We just had some letdowns at the end and they made some hustle plays that kind of hurt us,’’ Nelson said. ``We just have to do a better job as a team, especially when they didn’t shoot that well against us. But when we give them second chances … I know we missed (Vucevic) tonight, but it’s not an excure. We’ve just got to fight a little more as a team.’’

In the extra period, Orlando got just one field goal – a fastbreak layup from Afflalo – and was outscored 8-2 by the Cavaliers (11-21). In the extra period, Orlando missed five of six shots and turned the ball over twice.

Cleveland center Anderson Varejao took advantage of Vucevic’s absence with 18 points and a franchise-record 25 rebounds, eight of them coming on the offensive end of the floor. He had six of Cleveland’s eight points in OT.

Five Magic players scored in double figures, led by Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis’ 16 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out in overtime. Nelson had a big hand in Orlando’s great ball movement in the first three-plus quarters with 14 points and nine assists. Orlando had 21 assists on its 32 field goals.

Andrew Nicholson chipped in 12 points and six boards off the bench, while Tobias Harris got off to a strong start with 10 points, all of which were scored in the first half.Afflalo fought off constant double teams and added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Orlando dropped 3-12 on the road this season. Cleveland, which is in its fourth season of rebuilding after the defection of LeBron James to Miami, narrowly avoided losing a seventh straight loss that would have dropped it below the transitioning Magic in the Eastern Conference standings.

``That’s a challenge to do, especially with the way that it happened within the course of a minute or so,’’ Vaughn said of his team having little life left after the fourth-quarter faltering. ``To pick up the spirits, we tried to. They scored first in overtime, which didn’t help. But give our guys credit for the way they handled themselves tonight.’’

While the Magic were without Vucevic (sprained ankle), the Cavs didn’t have all-star point guard Kyrie Irving (knee contusion). Vucevic sprained his ankle on Tuesday against Golden State – a 94-81 loss – and hoped to play on Thursday. However, he was scratched from the starting lineup 75 minutes before tipoff.

Veteran forward Jason Maxiell (six points and six rebounds) started at center, giving the smallish Magic two players with Davis and Maxiell at 6-foot-7 along the frontline.

It was an otherwise forgettable night for the top two picks in last June’s NBA Draft – Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. They combined to miss their first seven shots, none of them uglier than Bennett’s 3-point try at the end of the third quarter that hit off the side of the backboard.

Oladipo (six points and four rebounds) scored his first points of the game midway through the fourth quarter and had a key bucket with 2:46 remaining to put the Magic up 76-68. Bennett missed all four of his shots and did not score in 11 minutes.

But there simply wasn’t enough Magic offense for the Magic after Oladipo’s jump shot. Orlando didn’t have a field goal the rest of the way in regulation.

``We just can’t have those letdowns on either end of the court,’’ Nelson said. ``We don’t have the kind of team that can make those mistakes. It hurts when we do. We just have to play a better game for 48 minutes.’’

The Magic were playing their first road game in more than two weeks after spending the past 16 days and six games in Orlando. The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Saturday night when they host the rival Miami Heat.

Down two at the half and struggling offensively, Orlando came out of the locker room dialed in and sharp in the third period. Nelson had a stellar sequence with two passes to cutters for buckets and then hit a 3-pointer. Nelson had eight points and five assists in the third quarter alone to give Orlando a 62-57 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

That lead would grow to as much as 10 points in the fourth period, but it would quickly vanish as the Cavs finished regulation with a flurry.

In the four games that Vucevic missed in early December with a sprained ankle, Orlando was outrebounded in all four games and a total of 213-143. The Magic made their rebounding a team effort in the early going, nearly matching the Cavs on the glass.

But in the end, Orlando was outrebounded again 59-49. More importantly, Cleveland grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 12 more field goal attempts for the Cavs.

With him enjoying a career year and playing at an all-star level, Afflalo has seen increased defensive scrutiny of late. Cleveland repeatedly sent double-teams at him on Thursday to get the ball out of his hands. As a result, Afflalo had just one shot and went scoreless in the game’s first 16 minutes. He did get himself going midway through the second period with a tip-in, a quick, catch-and-shoot basket along the baseline and a 3-pointer from the wing. For the game, he made just five of 15 shots – his second straight poor shooting performance following a five-game streak of shooting at least 50 percent from the floor and the 3-point line.

Nelson said in time the young Magic will learn from frustrating nights like Thursday and they will better understand how to close out games. Until then, Nelson said this loss will haunt the Magic.

``It’s tough, but in the NBA we have another opponent coming up in two days. But definitely this one stings right now,’’ the 10-year veteran said. ``I felt like we were in control of the game for the most part, especially in the second half. … It’s a process to learn how to win. I’m not saying we played that bad. There are a couple of more things we need to do mentally and collectively.’’