Magic Down 3-1 in Series After Game 4 Loss

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Like an all-business boxer systematically taking apart a foe with a flurry of strategic punches, Toronto Raptors superstar forward Kawhi Leonard went to Orlando’s body, landed a few devastating head shots and ultimately seemed to break the will of the Magic and a fanbase filling the Amway Center with noise and hope.

Now, after Leonard used his massive hands and expansive wingspan to batter them for 34 points and one defensive disruption after another in the Raptors’ 107-85 Game 4 victory, the Magic find themselves in a daunting 3-1 hole as they head back to Toronto in hopes of staving off elimination.

``He was great tonight, he played a helluva game and can score in so many ways,’’ Magic all-star center Nikola Vucevic said of Leonard, who made 10 of his first 15 shots and recorded his second 30-point game of the series. ``I feel like we could have helped (Aaron Gordon) a little more on some of the pick-and-rolls and some of the stuff when he was driving. But he’s a great player and a tough matchup. He can score in a lot of ways, he’s seen a lot of different matchups thrown at him. But again, we could have done a better job of helping A.G.’’

A little more than a week after stunningly winning Game 1 in the best-of-seven, first-round playoff series, the Magic have dropped three straight – the final two coming at a raucous Amway Center seeing playoff basketball for the first time in seven seasons. Like in Friday’s disappointing 98-93 Game 3 loss, the sellout crowd 19,087 was left wanting because of the all-around brilliance of Leonard, who made 12 of 20 shots and grabbed six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

``It’s tough, man, because these fans have been waiting for these games for so long and it’s really disappointing to not give them a win,’’ said Evan Fournier, who bounced back from his nightmarish one-of-12 shooting in Game 3 with 19 points on Sunday. ``That’s a big reason why we want to come back here for a Game 6.’’

Leonard played a major role in getting Magic forwards Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon in early foul trouble and he often disrupted an Orlando offense that made 42 percent of its shots and only seven of 33 3-point shots. Orlando turned the ball over 17 times – errors that led to 21 points for a Toronto team that was first in the NBA this season in points scored off of turnovers.

``To me, it’s the turnovers, the rebounding game and then the same thing – the purpose of play,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford lamented. ``They are hard to play against and you can see it early in the game. We’re going to have to move the ball. It’s going to have to be inside-out. And then, if we make a couple, we can’t go back to, `I can score on these guys.’ We have to understand how we have to play in order to play well. It takes a lot of discipline.’’

Gordon did his best to match Leonard’s production, scoring 25 points by making 10 of his 17 field goals. But it was far from being enough – especially with center Nikola Vucevic (11 points and five rebounds) and super sub Terrence Ross (five points on one-of-five shooting) struggling all night to get clean looks against Toronto’s aggressive and trapping defense. Vucevic, who had a career-best 60 double-doubles on the season, had notched just one such accomplishment in four games against Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

After his Magic were hit with two Leonard haymakers in the two games in Orlando, Gordon said the Magic have to go to Toronto still thinking they can flip the best-of-seven series around.

``We’re going to go to Toronto and, obviously, look for a win,’’ Gordon said. ``We’ve shown that we can win there before and, that’s what we’re going to do. That’s the idea – go out there and fight – definitely fight – and potentially get back here (for a Game 6). We get a win out there, then the series is up for grabs.’’

Nothing will be up for grabs if the Magic don’t reverse their rebounding disadvantage. Two nights after missed rebounds hurt their chances of rallying in the fourth quarter, the Magic got smashed 45-34 on the boards. Toronto had seven offensive rebounds that it turned into 11 points.

Orlando was outrebounded by 11 boards just six times all season – but not once after a Jan. 19 home loss to Milwaukee. The Magic had rebounding edges of plus-six, plus-19, plus-10 and plus-seven in the four regular-season games against the Raptors. After winning the rebounding battle in Games 1 and 2, the Magic have been outboarded in Games 3 and 4.

``We don’t have a lot of room for error,’’ Clifford said. ``You can make an argument that the biggest difference was their Game 3 offensive rebounding and the same happened tonight. We weren’t hitting (while rebounding); we’re going to have to hit. Look at the strengths of the team – if turn the ball over, it’s going to be a problem. And if we don’t win the rebounding game by a pretty significant margin, it’s not going to happen for us.’’

Another very telling statistic of the Magic’s plight over the past three games: Veteran point guard D.J. Augustin, the Game 1 hero with his game-winning three, has scored just 24 points in the past three games after pumping in 25 in the opener. Toronto’s move to switch 6-foot-6 shooting guard Danny Green onto the 6-foot Augustin has greatly limited his looks, holding him to nine, seven and eight points on Sunday.

``They’re a long team and they’re all over the place,’’ Augustin said. ``Once you get by one guy, somebody else is there to step up. They’re playing good defense. We’ve got to make the right play, make the simple passes and don’t wait until the last minute.’’

Following the Magic’s brief run in the third quarter, the Raptors proceeded to drain most of the drama out of the night by making an efficient 53.3 percent of their shots and 39.3 percent from 3-point range.

``It was great (winning twice in Orlando),’’ Leonard said. ``Road wins are the best, especially in the playoffs. We all know the job (in the series with the Magic) isn’t done yet.’’

Serge Ibaka chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds, while reserve guard Norman Powell added 16 points. Pascal Siakam scored 16 points and took turns with Leonard early in the game battering the Magic and building a 16-point halftime lead.

Primarily, though, it was Leonard’s all-out assault – both offensively and defensively – that did Orlando in all night.

``It’s just part of the game because you know he’s a really good player, he’s established and you know Kawhi is going to make shots,’’ Gordon said of Leonard. ``The demoralizing part about it is that we know that we’re a better team than we’ve shown and how we’re playing. That’s the demoralizing part of it.’’

The series now shifts back to Toronto once again for Friday’s Game 5. The Magic will use Monday as a travel day and Game 5 will be played Tuesday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. The Magic were victorious there twice this season – once during the regular season in late February and in last Saturday’s Game 1 following a game-winning 3-pointer by Augustin.

``We’ve got to regroup,’’ Ross said. ``We’ve got to do it fast and we’ve got to watch film and understand better what we need to do. We’ve got a way to play and I just think we’ve got to figure that out. They’re throwing all sorts of coverages at us and we’ve got to figure something out.’’

Down 16 at intermission, Orlando saw the deficit swell to as much as 19 points before stringing together its best stretch of the night. And when Ross buried a 3-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, Orlando was within 82-70 by the start of the fourth.

Repeatedly run off the 3-point line by a Toronto defense determined to not let him beat them, Ross missed his first three shots before the buzzer-beater. Orlando came into Sunday with 11 victories in which it rallied in the fourth quarter after trailing at the end of three periods. However, no such rally was possible on Sunday because of Orlando’s inability to handle the ball against Leonard and the Raptors’ suffocating defense.

``This is how you win games in the playoffs,’’ said Leonard, who was rested in 22 games during the regular season so that he would be fresh and healthy for the postseason. ``It’s not a one-man team. We all did it collectively throughout the whole year. It showed tonight.’’

A first half that started with so much promise quickly fizzled because of the all-around brilliance of Leonard, and the Magic found themselves in a daunting 58-42 at intermission. Forced to send two defenders at Leonard, the Magic were left exposed defensively and Toronto repeatedly made them pay with eight 3-point shots – by seven different players.

Down 11-0 and 10-0 in the previous two games – both losses – the Magic got off to a much better start on Sunday. They led 9-1 and sat at 13-10 after drilling the first six shots of the game. However, turnovers were once again an issue, jump-starting Toronto’s fastbreak game. Bothered by Leonard’s length in the passing lanes, the Magic’s gave the ball away six times in the first quarter and eight times in the opening half – errors that led to 11 Toronto points.

Leonard caused and took advantage of Orlando’s foul trouble in the first half. Isaac picked up two fouls in less than four minutes and a third came 38 seconds into the second quarter. Later in the half, Gordon had to commit a third foul to prevent a Leonard dunk off a steal.

Unlike in Friday’s Game 1, when Leonard had his shot blocked four times in the early going and he turned it over six times in the game, the former NBA Finals MVP was the picture of efficiency. He made six of nine shots and five of six free throws for 18 first-half points.

``He’s a great player and there’s nothing to say about what he’s doing,’’ Augustin said of Leonard, a former NBA Finals MVP and a two-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award. ``We’ve just got to do our best to try and contain him. I think A.G. has been playing great defense on him, but he’s just one of those guys in the league where there’s just not much you can do to stop him. We just have to try and control all of the other guys and do as well as we can against him.’’

While being at wit’s end about what to do with Leonard, Augustin wasn’t ready to surrender this series to the Raptors just yet.

``It’s not over until it’s over,’’ Augustin said. ``We’ve got to go in there and try to get us another win like we did in Game 1. Then, come back and do well on our homecourt. Just keep playing, that’s really all you can do now. If we lose, we go home, and we have to have that in our minds.

``We have to keep chipping away,’’ Augustin said. ``If we go down, we have to keep chipping away and if we go up, we have to stay with it. We’ve got to keep fighting because that’s all we can do now. We have another game to play and you never know what can happen in the playoffs.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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