Postgame Report: Magic vs. Raptors (3/30/14)

Nikola Vucevic

By John Denton
March 30, 2014

ORLANDO – Considering the emotional investment poured into an overtime defeat of the playoff-bound Charlotte Bobcats two nights earlier, maybe it was only natural for the Orlando Magic to be a bit flat at the start on Sunday.

Orlando eventually awoke from its slumber, playing well enough to dig out of a 21-point deficit and tie the game three times in the fourth quarter. However, all of the energy that the Magic had to expend to rally was absent in the tense moments of the game, allowing the Toronto Raptors to escape with a 98-93 victory at the Amway Center.

Orlando (21-53) had more trouble in-bounding the ball at a critical time in the game, costing it a shot at potentially tying the game with 8.9 seconds to play. Maurice Harkless turned to referee Scott Foster and asked for timeout as the count got to five, but he wasn’t granted the stoppage, resulting in Orlando’s sixth turnover of the fourth quarter. The error cast a pall over what had been a dynamic rally in the fourth quarter for the Magic.

``I guess (the referee) didn’t acknowledge me. He said he didn’t hear me, but I called timeout a couple of times,’’ Harkless said of the exchange with Foster. Harkless said he couldn’t hear Foster’s verbal count and added, ``it’s just a tough situation.’’

The Magic were trying to win three games in a row for the first time since Feb. 5-9 when they toppled Detroit, Oklahoma City and Indiana all at the Amway Center. Orlando thumped Portland on Tuesday and surged past Charlotte in overtime on Friday, but that win clearly took some of the starch out of a fatigued Magic squad. They shot a scorching 55.1 percent – their second-highest mark of the season – but lost because of 19 turnovers and a 27-14 disparity in free throw attempts.

The Magic excited the Amway Center crowd when it tied the game at 76, 78 and 80 midway through the third period. Rookie guard Victor Oladipo had a 3-pointer and a layup. Oladipo and Jameer Nelson missed 3-pointers that would have given the Magic their first lead since the first quarter and Toronto capitalized with seven straight points to take control.

``It’s tough because you spend so much energy coming all the way back and then when we did come back they hit us with another punch and we’re down nine again,’’ said Harkless, who made six of nine shots and scored 14 points. ``It’s tough to just keep coming back. We can’t let ourselves be in that situation where we’re down (almost) 20 at halftime.’’

Orlando got back to within 96-93 when Arron Afflalo drilled a 3-pointer with 33.8 seconds to play. It was Afflalo who hit the 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds left in regulation to force overtime on Friday against the Bobcats.

The Magic got a defensive stop with 8.9 seconds to play, but they could not get the ball inbounds and were whistled for a five-second call that resulted in a turnover. In-bounding the ball has been an issue for the team all season, and it bit the Magic again. The play was drawn up to go to Afflalo, but he didn’t have time to run around a series of screens and get in position to take a pass from Harkless.

``Just good defense by Toronto denying the basketball in,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``We’ll continue to get better at it. Good thing is we’ll continue to be in those situations and we’ll get better at (executing) them.’’

From there, Orlando had to foul twice and DeMar DeRozan (28 points) iced the game with two free throws with 3.7 seconds to play. Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points and nine rebounds.

Toronto (42-31) beat the Magic for a seventh straight time – the longest such streak in the history of its franchise. The Raptors have beaten the Magic in every meeting over the past two seasons, including three straight at the Amway Center.

Magic center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for his 36th double-double of the season. Vucevic had 24 points and 23 rebounds in Friday’s victory. Vucevic had 18 points in the first half, but he got just three shot attempts in the second half.

Nelson scored 12 of his 16 points in the third quarter, while Oladipo scored 16 points off the bench. Tobias Harris chipped in 14 points. Oladipo was whistled for the first technical foul of his career, and minutes after the game he had already started the appeal process with the league office.

The Magic won’t play again until Wednesday night when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is the final game of a four-game home stand.

Down 19 points at the half, Orlando clawed back to within seven points in the third quarter behind a spirited burst from Nelson. The veteran point guard, who came into the game eighth in the NBA in assists, scored 12 points in the third quarter alone by drilling four of five shots, two 3-pointers and two free throws.

The Magic were flat and not sharp in Sunday’s first half. Orlando turned the ball over nine times in the early going and trailed 57-38 at intermission.

Up 22-21 late in the first quarter, Orlando inexplicably went cold from the floor and fell into a big hole. A span of 9 minutes and 3 seconds without a field goal allowed the Raptors to rip off a 26-6 spurt to take control of the game. During the offensive drought, Orlando missed 10 straight shots and turned the ball over five times.

``That’s not the way that we want to start games,’’ Vucevic said. ``They jumped on us and they were playing well defensively. Then, we weren’t getting stops. We made it back into the game, but it’s tough to keep it at that high level. We got away with it a couple of times, but we can’t always do that. It takes a lot of energy to come back. Once we did, then they started making shots again. It’s tough to always run after teams; we’ve got to be the ones that control the games.’’