Magic Have Responded Well After Tough Losses All Season

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Quickly buzzing through the memories of a regular season filled with highs and lows and several instances where his Orlando Magic repeatedly showed signs of steely resolve, guard Terrence Ross spoke softly in his team’s defeated locker room, but his words were filled with conviction.

An Orlando team that had to fight for its basketball life over the final six weeks of the regular season and has already gotten much further than many projected isn’t about to fold now just because of two straight losses in the playoffs to the star-studded Toronto Raptors.

It’s just not happening from a Magic team that has proven its mettle all season when against the odds, Ross stressed.

``We’ve done a good job of responding all year, so this is familiar to us,’’ Ross said on the heels of Orlando’s 98-93 loss to Toronto in Friday’s Game 3. ``I think we’ll come back and get back on it. For the most part, it’s just about us not backing down now.’’

Up 1-0 in the best-of-seven, first-round series a week ago following a stirring, last-second defeat of the Raptors in Game 1, the Magic have since dropped the last two games to put themselves in a 2-1 hole. Knowing that they certainly don’t want to head back to Toronto down 3-1, the Magic are promising to pour everything they’ve got into bouncing back in Sunday’s Game 4 at the Amway Center to potentially knot the series at 2-2.

Head coach Steve Clifford is confident that his team won’t panic and will be up to the challenge of responding.

``It’s 2-1, I don’t know if it even has to be said (that the Magic are still in the series). It’s not like it’s 3-0,’’ Clifford said. ``(The Raptors) have the homecourt (advantage) back. I mean, we’ve played them now seven times (counting the regular season) and it’s 4-3 and we won up there (in Toronto) twice. We just have to play better. … Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s an even bigger part of playoff basketball. You have to be able to feel like you got kicked in the teeth – which we did – we were one long rebound away from having a chance to tie the game, but that’s the way it is. If we can’t get past that, we don’t deserve to win.’’

No one felt more like they had been metaphorically kicked in the teeth than guard Evan Fournier, who badly wanted to win on Friday in front of Orlando’s raucous, sellout crowd. Fournier struggled through his worst shooting night of the season – one of 12 overall and one of eight from 3-point range – at the worst possible time. His one 3-point make came with 3:56 to play – following nine straight misses over the first three quarters – to draw Orlando within 92-85. However, when more struggles for Fournier followed, the Magic were ultimately saddled with an 98-93 loss.

``I had a rough night, but I just need to let go. Just kind of let go, let the game come to me and when stuff happens, just make (shots),’’ said Fournier, who is shooting just 28.6 percent from the floor (12 of 42) and 25 percent from 3-point range (five of 20) in the series. ``Really, pretty simple obviously and I’ve just got to do it. I’m very frustrated and disappointed in my performance last night. So, Game 4 now.’’

Fournier is in his fifth season with the Magic and has suffered through four painful rebuilding seasons to get to this point. When he saw the Amway Center packed with screaming Magic fans on Friday, he thinks his desire to play for a Magic fanbase that has been so loyal might have been counterproductive.

``That’s part of it, and it might even be why I played so poorly last night,’’ Fournier said of wanting to deliver a home playoff win for Magic fans. ``I mean the Amway was rocking and that was really fun. Hopefully, it will be the same (Sunday for Game 4).’’

Added 11-year NBA veteran D.J. Augustin, referring to the environment provided by Magic fans in Game 3: ``It was amazing, and I wish we could have pulled out the win. I know it will be the same thing on Sunday. It was an amazing thing to see and sometimes I couldn’t even hear what Coach (Clifford) was saying on the sidelines. I think that (noise) helped us pull off that comeback in the end. We’re going to need (those fans) on Sunday.’’

Fournier and the Magic will look to bounce back from this adversity much the same way the team did all season long. Four times this season, the Magic dropped four straight games and each time they stopped the skid by beating a playoff team. Numerous times the Magic trailed after three quarters only to pull off 11 fourth-quarter comebacks for victories this season – the second-best total in the NBA.

Orlando sat at 20-31 heading into its Jan. 31 game against Indiana and it looked like things would go badly that night before it responded in the fourth quarter behind the strong play of Augustin and Ross. Including that win, the Magic went 22-9 over the last chunk of the regular season to snap the franchise’s postseason drought at six years.

The team isn’t about to let up now just because it is in a daunting 2-1 hole, said Augustin – the hero of Game 1 with his game-winning, 28-foot 3-point shot.

``We’ll definitely respond. Like I said before, we’re not going to back down or quit,’’ Augustin said. ``We’ve come too far to get where we are today to just give up, so we’re going to fight. They’re a great team, but we feel like we’re right there with them. We feel like we should have won (Friday) and we’ll have another chance (on Sunday) to win a game.’’

They’ll also have another chance on Sunday for all-star center Nikola Vucevic to continue to show off his vast array of skills against Toronto’s elite defense. Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka gave Vucevic tons of problems in Games 1 and 2, but the Magic’s 7-footer finally came alive in Friday’s second half. He scored 14 of his 22 points in the third quarter by more aggressively attacking Gasol and Ibaka, and he chipped in 14 rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots and five turnovers.

Protecting the ball and being decisive against Toronto’s trapping and aggressive defense is an absolute must if the Magic are to win Game 4, Vucevic said.

``We had some good looks and we didn’t convert and there were a lot of little mistakes in a playoff game like that, especially against a great team like Toronto, that you just can’t have,’’ said Vucevic, who noted that Orlando must clean up its poor starts to games and second halves on Sunday. ``We had looks we didn’t convert and plays where we could have made better reads, but that’s just all part of it.’’

No one wants Sunday’s game to get here faster than Fournier, who said he went home following Friday’s game and watched playoff basketball and a few episodes of ``Friends’’ before trying to get to sleep. There was no hesitation when asked about the importance of Sunday’s Game 4.

``It is a must-win, for sure,’’ Fournier said. ``It’s a must win (on Sunday). So, we’ve got to start from the get-go with 48 minutes of real intensity. We’ll see how it goes.’’

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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