Magic Look to Keep Their Season Alive in Game 5

by John Denton

TORONTO – Among the reasons that the Orlando Magic hope to win tonight’s Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors – chief among them, of course, so that they can extend the series – is because they simply don’t want this run with this team to end.

Once 20-31 in late January, the Magic became one of the NBA’s best feel-good stories of the season when they strung together a 22-9 closing kick to slingshot the franchise into the playoffs for the first time since 2012. And it wasn’t just that the Magic won more games than they had in seven seasons – it was the manner in which their never-say-die attitude kept them in things and saw them pull off the second-most fourth-quarter comebacks (11) in the NBA this season.

They parlayed that regular-season momentum into a defeat of Toronto in Game 1, but the Magic have disappointingly dropped their last three games in a row – two of them coming before raucous sell-out crowds at the Amway Center. Now, looking up out of a 3-1 hole and knowing that elimination comes with another loss in this series, the Magic are hopeful that they have one last rally in them to keep this stirring season alive.

``For us, all year we just kept fighting whenever we were in a hole and whenever it got difficult, we kept fighting,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, who became a first-time NBA All-Star all season. ``Obviously, we haven’t been in a situation like we are tonight where if we lose it’s over. I believe all these guys tonight are really going to bring it and we’re going to try and fight. It won’t be easy because they are a great team and they’ve been in this situation before and they’re going to try and close out the series. So, it’s up to us to respond to that.

``We want to keep this thing going, we believe we have it in us, and we want to extend the series,’’ he added.

To potentially extend the series, the Magic will have to better figure out how handle Toronto’s long and physical defense and put up a better fight against the offensive onslaught of superstar forward Kawhi Leonard.

In the series, Orlando has averaged just 91 points a game while shooting only 38.9 percent from the floor and 30.7 percent from 3-point range. A big issue has been turnovers and the points that the Raptors have scored off them in the series. Toronto’s length along the frontline with Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Leonard has led to 61 Magic turnovers – 34 of which have come off Toronto steals. In Sunday’s 107-85 Game 4 loss at the Amway Center, the Magic gave the ball away 17 times – mistakes that leading to 21 Toronto points.

``I think a lot of it is them because they’re good at (forcing turnovers) – it’s strips, it’s contesting passes, it’s their length and they’ve done it all year, obviously,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``The big thing is, if you look at it, 11 (turnovers) in Game 1 and we win in a close game and then it’s gone 17, 16 and 17. We can’t have that many turnovers.’’

As Clifford has pointed out throughout the series, the Magic haven’t lost of late because of poor effort or a lack of focus. Instead, it’s been because Toronto is an elite defense with two former Defensive Players of the Year (Leonard twice and Gasol once). And during the regular season, Toronto ranked first in the NBA in turning other team’s mistakes into points on the other end.

``Turning the ball over is their strength and we kind of got crushed on that in that Game 4,’’ said guard Evan Fournier, who scored 19 points on Sunday, but also turned the ball over four times. ``That was the big reason why we lost that game. That’s going to be a big key tonight. I don’t know what to tell you outside of, `Don’t turn the ball over.’ It’s not even about being stronger with the ball; it’s just don’t turn it over.’’

Added Vucevic: ``There’s not many teams that have the length that they have, especially with the addition of Marc Gasol, who is another big guy with a lot of length and a big body. Him, Pascal (Siakam) and Kawhi, it’s not easy to get into the paint and make plays. It’s been giving us trouble the last few games and our turnovers are high. Against a team like Toronto, you just can’t have that.’’

Leonard, a former Finals MVP, has been dominant on both ends of the floor, averaging 28 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals a game. He seemed to blunt every Magic rally on Sunday with a strong move in traffic or a difficult fade-away jump shot. He bounced back from a rocky Game 3 by battering the Magic for 34 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and four deflections.

If Orlando can somehow keep its turnovers in check and keep Leonard from getting going in transition, it just might be able to stay close enough to win the game at the end – just as it did in Game 1 when veteran point guard D.J. Augustin converted a tying layup with 44 seconds to play and drilled a game-winning 3-pointer late. Augustin had 25 points in that Game 1, but he has totaled just 24 points since as the Raptors have used size and traps on him to get the ball out of his hands.

The focus, Fournier said, is on winning just one game and getting the series back to the Amway Center. Several Magic players were visibly upset that they couldn’t win in front of their fan base in Games 3 and 4, and they’d like nothing more than to be able to play a Game 6 back in Orlando.

``Obviously, we can’t go for a home run, and the focus should just be on us playing better, stop making mistakes and being more disciplined,’’ Fournier said.

``Obviously, a win tonight would be great because we would be staying alive and going back home, but it’s going to be a fight tonight because they are going to come out and try to kill us, basically, and not give us any hope,’’ Fournier added. ``Especially after losing those two games at home, you have a bad taste in your mouth and you just don’t want to end the season like that, obviously.’’

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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