By John Denton Jan. 1, 2018
BROOKLYN – Pressed for a couple of New Year’s resolutions for his Orlando Magic going forward, head coach Frank Vogel said he hoped that his team would pass better and defend with more vigor – improvements that would hopefully lead to the squad putting together a spirited run of success in 2018.
When neither of those things happened in the final minutes of Monday’s otherwise sluggish and sloppy game, the frustrated Magic were saddled with yet another loss in a winnable game.
Orlando fouled too often late in the tense moments and didn’t get much at all out of its disjointed offense down the stretch, leading to a disappointing 98-95 loss against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
Considering that the Nets (14-23) were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and for a fifth time in the past seven days, Orlando (12-26) should have a sizable advantage.
Instead, the Magic shot just 36.5 percent from the floor, made only six of 31 3-point shots and didn’t score over the final 47.1 seconds after knotting the game at 95. Things were even uglier over the sluggish second half (29.4 percent shooting) and the decisive fourth quarter (34.8 percent).
``It’s not just this game; it’s all of the games that we can win – we’ve got to win them,’’ said center Bismack Biyombo, one of Orlando’s bright spots with 13 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots. ``We keep talking about it’s a long season, but at some point we have to come out and figure this out.’’
Point guard Elfrid Payton tied the game at 95 by converting a tough layup as he was fouled with 47.1 seconds to play. However, the point guard missed the go-ahead free throw and the Magic never recovered.
With the game tied inside the final minute, Orlando fouled twice defensively and Brooklyn got three free throws from DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe. Offensively, the Magic missed two chances to either go-ahead or tie, sealing their fate on another forgettable night.
``We fouled too much and credit them for making more plays than we did down the stretch,’’ a frustrated Vogel said. ``We had a tough shooting night. They did a lot of switching and they have a lot of tough one-on-one defenders. Their switching forces you into a lot of one-on-one and we weren’t able to get any separation or penetration.’’
Encouraged last week after beating Detroit, Orlando lost a second straight winnable game and fell even further behind the rebuilding Nets. The Magic played well for a half on Saturday, but squandered an 18-point lead in a loss to Miami.
Somehow, this loss felt worse considering how badly the Magic needed a victory and was in a position of facing a fatigued opponent. The Magic lost when shooting guard Evan Fournier (13 points) struggled badly with his shot, Jonathon Simmons (10 points) continued to have difficulty finding his place in the offense and standout forward Aaron Gordon (20 points) mustered just 10 points after a 10-point first quarter.
``(The Nets) have an interesting style of basketball where they basically have five guards on the floor and that’s difficult to guard. Credit to them because they executed down the stretch and we need to continue to mature as a team quickly, said Gordon, who made just four of 13 shots over the final three quarters of the game.
``We’re just letting these games get out of hand by not executing down at the end.
``We’re letting these games go,’’ Gordon added. ``That’s the second game in a row that we’ve let go by not closing (the opponent) out at the end. We need to definitely take a good look at this one, probably another look at the Miami game (from Saturday) and then mature very quickly as a team.’’
After Carroll’s tiebreaking free throw, Orlando worked the ball to Fournier. He missed a long 3-point attempt with Orlando down one with 23 seconds to play, giving Brooklyn the ball back. From there, Crabbe was fouled on a drive to the rim and he buried two more free throws. D.J. Augustin got off an off-balanced 3-point attempt in the final seconds, but it was off the mark, leaving the Magic to try and stomach another loss.
``I don’t know about the other guys, but I felt (bad) all night long and never found my rhythm,’’ said Fournier, who missed four of five shots in the fourth quarter and shot four of 15 from the floor for the game. ``It wasn’t good enough for sure, but we had out moments tonight.’’
Reserve center Jarrett Allen scored 16 for the Nets, while Crabbe and Caris LaVert had 15 each. Carroll scored 14 for a Brooklyn team that made 43.9 percent of its shots. The Magic shot just 36.5 percent from the floor and was out of sync throughout the entire second half.
Payton overcame early turnover issues and contributed 17 points and seven assists in 32 minutes. Playing without center Nikola Vucevic (broken left hand), guard Terrence Ross (sprained knee) and key reserve Jonathan Isaac (ankle soreness), the Magic got little help off its bench in the second half. The reserves accounted for just eight points over the final 24 minutes.
Monday’s game was the third meeting between the two Eastern Conference teams. Brooklyn won at home in the second game of the season despite a career-best 41 points from Vucevic, who missed his fourth straight game on Monday because of a fractured bone in his left hand. Orlando evened up the series on Oct. 24 when it won at the Amway Center thanks, in large part, to Gordon’s 41 points and his game-winning 3-point shot.
The Magic will be back in action on Wednesday when they host the Houston Rockets. Superstar guard James Harden scored 40 points in Sunday’s two-OT win over the Lakers, but he strained his right hamstring in the fourth quarter and won’t play against the Magic. The injury was determined to be a Grade-2 strain and he is expected to miss the next two weeks.
Up one at the half, Orlando lost the lead in the third period for the first time since the first quarter. With their offense struggling mightily – they made just seven of 28 shots in the third period – the Magic headed into the fourth quarter trailing 71-70. Gordon struggled to get to the rim against Brooklyn’s swarming defense and made just two of his eight tries in the third period.
When the offense continued to misfire and the defense proved unable to defend without fouling, the Magic let another winnable game slip through their fingers. Once 8-4, the Magic are in the throes of a stretch where they have gone 4-22. Frustratingly, they continue to see their hopes of progress and a playoff push slip further and further away.
``We had a good win against Detroit (on Thursday) and then we let one game slip against Miami and tonight I felt like we should have won too,’’ Fournier said. ``So, those three games could have easily been a three-game winning streak. If we’re going to start winning again, we definitely have to put some in a row where we’re playing consistent basketball.’’
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.