Magic Know They Will Have to Play Better Offensively to Win Game 2

by John Denton

TORONTO – Some 15 hours after D.J. Augustin’s clutch 3-point shot gave them a feel-good Game 1 win in Toronto, the giddy Orlando Magic convened on Sunday morning for a meeting at their team hotel.

It was then that Orlando’s no-nonsense, nuts-and-bolts head coach Steve Clifford figuratively rained down on the Magic much the same way cold thunderstorms drenched Southeastern Ontario all day on Sunday.

``The bottom line is the offensive game that we played (on Saturday) night won’t win Game 2. That’s what I told (the players) this morning, it just won’t,’’ Clifford said. ``Some things helped us, but they had us on our heels – particularly in the third quarter offensively, and we won’t win (in Tuesday’s Game 2) playing that same game.’’

Orlando was able to jump out to a 1-0 lead on second-seeded Toronto in the best-of-seven, first-round series when Augustin scored 25 points and drilled a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left in what would become a 104-101 Magic victory.

The Magic’s thrill of victory, however, masked their frustration most of the game – especially on the offensive end of the floor. Even with Augustin hitting nine of 13 shots, Orlando connected on just 40 percent of its shots for the game. As Clifford mentioned, things were particularly rough in the third quarter (five-of-18 shooting, 27.8 percent) and in the second half (16-of-43 shooting, 37.2 percent).

Usually reliable Magic standouts Nikola Vucevic (11 points on three-of-14 shooting), Aaron Gordon (10 points on three-of-10 shooting) and Terrence Ross (10 points on two-of-11 shooting) struggled mightily against an elite Toronto defense geared specifically to stop them.

``I struggled a little bit offensively last night and over the next two days I’m going to look at ways for me to maybe get more space, try to attack a little more, be more aggressive and maybe find ways to play off my teammates to get myself going,’’ said Vucevic, who had key passes for a couple of Magic 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. ``I’ll just analyze what I didn’t do well and go from there. Obviously, in the playoffs a lot of times they scout you very well and know what you do well, and I’ve just got to find ways to still be effective over these next two days.’’

Orlando’s patterns during the season seem to back up Clifford’s claim that it will be nearly impossible for the Magic to win in Game 2 with similarly poor shooting. During the regular season, Orlando went just 5-18 when shooting worse than 42 percent from the floor and it was 7-10 when Vucevic had 15-or-fewer points.

On Saturday, the Magic found a way to be victorious – just as they have done so many times of late in must-win situations. Saturday’s game proved to be the Magic’s 11th victory this season that came after they started the fourth quarter trailing. Only Detroit has more such victories with 12 fourth-quarter comebacks.

``The way guys have played in these last three or four weeks, and the way we played (on Saturday), we’ve played well,’’ Clifford said. ``We’ve played a lot of games like (Saturday’s Game 1) lately – at Indiana (March 2 and March 30), we played a game here (in Toronto on Feb. 24) that was similar to this one. We’ve hung in games.’’

Clifford was pleased with how Orlando hung in when Toronto specifically tried taking Vucevic and Ross out of relevancy on Saturday. Vucevic, an all-star this season, has been Orlando’s leading scorer and rebounder all season, while Ross came into the playoffs riding the best four-game stretch of his career (27.2 points per game over the last four games of the regular season).

Toronto’s emphasis on those two players created opportunities for Evan Fournier (16 points and two 3-pointers), Jonathan Isaac (11 points and eight rebounds), Michael Carter-Williams (10 points, five rebounds, two assists and one bloody nose) and Khem Birch (six points and seven rebounds). Isaac drilled a corner 3-pointer with 1:57 remaining that gave Orlando a 97-96 lead and Fournier followed up with a steal and layup on Danny Green.

Said Isaac of his big moment: ``I was just thinking when the ball comes to me, let it go. I saw the shot and I took it. I give God all the glory.’’

Vucevic and Augustin, two of the locker room leaders on the Magic all season, took Clifford’s harsh words to heart on Sunday and vowed that Orlando will need to be much better on Tuesday to potentially win Game 2. The two veterans know that the series could be about to get much more difficult now with Toronto in an 0-1 hole.

``We understand that it’s just one game and there’s still a lot of basketball to be played,’’ Vucevic said. ``We expect a great response from (the Raptors) in Game 2. Every game is going to be different and every game is going to be a different story. So, it wasn’t even a big celebration. We just congratulated each other on a big win, and we’ll move on.’’

Added Augustin: ``This next game is probably going to be the toughest game we’ve played all season. We’ve just got to continue doing what we’ve been doing and definitely not get relaxed. Like I’ve said, we have nothing to lose because nobody expected us to be here and we’re trying to do everything that we can to keep it going.’’

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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