Postgame Report: Magic 113, Raptors 98

by John Denton

TORONTO – When discussing his team’s decision to rest superstar forward Kawhi Leonard on Sunday against the Orlando Magic, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said it was largely because the Raptors had played a difficult game on Friday and they expect Tuesday’s game to be another hotly contested battle.

What was left unsaid, of course, was that the new-look Magic were likely to give the Raptors a big test at Scotiabank Arena – just as they had in two previous meetings this season.

Clearly, the days of opposing teams resting their star players against the Magic and getting away with it are over. The Milwaukee Bucks found that out two weeks ago in a 20-point loss after resting all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. On Sunday afternoon, the Leonard-less Raptors got that same message in a 113-98 loss to a motivated Magic squad that dominated the second half of action.

``(Opposing) teams are going to do what’s good for them and we don’t matter, but we’ve got a job to do,’’ said Magic guard Terrence Ross, who burned his former team for 28 points, three 3-pointers and nine rebounds. ``So, it didn’t matter if they had (former Raptor) Vince Carter, Kawhi or (former Raptor) DeMar (DeRozan); we had to go and do what we had to do.’’

Orlando (28-33) won for an eighth time in the past 10 games. More importantly, the Magic moved within a game of the Charlotte Hornets – losers on Saturday to the Brooklyn Nets – in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto (44-17) and Orlando went into last week’s break for the NBA All-Star Game with the longest active winning streaks in the NBA at six and five games, respectively. The Magic never over the final 40 minutes of Sunday’s game to snap the Raptors’ winning streak at seven games.

``It’s exciting, it’s fun and a little nerve-wracking,’’ Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (16 points, six rebounds, three 3-pointers and two blocked shots) said of being in a playoff race. ``We’re just getting out there and playing ball (and ignoring the daily changing of the standings).’’

All-Star center Nikola Vucevic (23 points and 12 rebounds) outplayed Toronto acquisition Marc Gasol (16 points and five rebounds). Evan Fournier chipped in 11 points and D.J. Augustin had 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Orlando shot 46.2 percent from the floor, drilled 14 3-pointers and got 44 points off its bench.

Orlando came into Sunday just two nights removed from a frustrating 110-109 home loss to the Chicago Bulls – a game decided by a late foul of a 3-point shooter. That defeat snapped Orlando’s five-game winning streak – its longest over the past three seasons.

Following that Friday loss, Magic forward Aaron Gordon vowed that by losing against the rebuilding Bulls that they would have to ``steal’’ a win against a powerhouse team that was heavily favored to win.

``Obviously, it was important for us to come here and put up a better performance and we talked about that,’’ said Vucevic, who made 10 of 17 shots and three of four 3-pointers. ``Obviously, Kawhi didn’t play and he’s their best, but still their 13-4 now without him. We played well from the beginning.’’

Added Magic coach Steve Clifford: ``We’re going to have to steal more than one (victory). But this was a good place to start.’’

Toronto rested Leonard on Sunday for it termed to be ``load management.’’ It was the 11th time this season that Leonard, who missed most of last season with a quad injury while playing for San Antonio, has been out because of ``load management.’’

The Raptors beat San Antonio 120-117 on Friday when Leonard stole the ball and dunked with 15 seconds remaining to wipe out a one-point deficit. Nurse explained the reasoning behind resting Leonard – an all-star starter last week – on Sunday, seemingly overlooking the game against a Magic squad that had played well previously against Toronto this season.

``I think the intensity of the last (game versus San Antonio on Friday) and the intensity of possibly the next one (on Tuesday against Boston),’’ Nurse said of sitting Leonard out. ``We feel we’re in a really good place right now with him and we just want to make sure we stay there.’’

Orlando won in Toronto for the first time since Jan. 29, 2017, ending a two-game losing streak in Canada. Combined with their two wins in Mexico City in December, the Magic are now 3-0 this season when playing outside of the U.S.

Ross, who made nine of 21 shots, three of eight 3-pointers and all seven of his free throws, narrowly missed his second 30-point effort of the season. He spent the first 4½ years of his career in Toronto before getting traded to Orlando for Serge Ibaka on Feb. 14, 2017.

``He’s a good rebounder and he played a good all-around game,’’ Clifford said of Ross, who tied a season high with his nine rebounds. ``He’s been so consistent in that (Sixth Man) role. Again, people are loaded up to him (defensively) but he’s finding ways to get to his spots and he’s making shots.’’

Kyle Lowry had 19 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who fell two games back of Milwaukee in the chase for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. The Raptors shot just 41.8 percent from the floor.

The Magic didn’t have reserve point guard Isaiah Briscoe on Sunday because of a concussion he apparently suffered in Friday’s loss. Briscoe took a charge from Chicago’s Otto Porter Jr. in the second quarter and was injured when he fell back into the knee of a teammate. He stayed in the game and played extensively in the second half and didn’t start experiencing concussion-like symptoms until Sunday just hours prior to tipoff.

The Magic came into Sunday having played well this season against the Raptors. Orlando lost 93-91 on Nov. 20 when Danny Green made a buzzer-beating shot. On Dec. 28, the Magic flipped the script on the Raptors by whipping them 116-87 at the Amway Center.

Up three at the half, the Magic played some of their best offensive basketball of the day in the third period. Orlando made four of its first six shots of the second half and headed into the fourth quarter with an 80-71 advantage. Vucevic had already notched his 43rd double-double of the season by the start of the fourth, while Ross had 17 points and seven boards through the first three periods.

Orlando headed into the final period with the seven-point lead and the odds of winning on its side. The Magic are 21-7 this season when leading after three quarters.

Orlando led 53-50 at intermission following a first half that was an offensive struggle for both teams. The Magic shot just 40 percent over the first 24 minutes, while the Raptors connected on just 43.2 percent of their shots.

``I thought we played hard with a ton of intensity and with good purpose of play, but … at halftime, I thought we had outplayed them, but we were only up three because of their pace of play and we weren’t back,’’ Clifford said. ``In the second half, we were better.’’

Yet again, Ross was there to rescue the Magic’s struggling offense. He scored 13 first-half points by drilling a free throw line jumper, another short shot, two 3-pointers and three free throws in 14 minutes of action.

Vucevic also had 13 first-half points, but he was highly frustrated by the officiating in the early going. During one sequence, Vucevic kicked the ball to earn a delay of game warning, he slapped the basketball following a questionable foul call and he slammed the ball against the basket stanchion after surrendering a basket to former Magic guard Jodie Meeks (10 first-half points).

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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