Postgame Report: Magic vs. Raptors

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – Much deeper into their rebuild than they’d like to be, the Orlando Magic are beyond the point of seeking happiness in moments of heartbreak, but still there were aspects of Tuesday’s gut-punch game from which they can build upon going forward.

Danny Green upended the Magic’s bid of upsetting Eastern Conference-leading Toronto and extending their own winning streak when he buried a baseline jumper with five-tenths of a second remaining. That shot allowed the Raptors to not only beat Orlando 93-91, but it also served as a means to silence the home team and the home fans at the Amway Center.

Before that crushing shot, however, the Magic (9-9) stood toe to toe with Toronto (14-4), which has designs on reaching the NBA Finals in June. Orlando didn’t wilt when it couldn’t make shots in a first half when it trailed by 18. It didn’t slink away meekly while missing 11 straight shots and six consecutive 3-point tries in the guts of the fourth quarter, responding well enough to lead 83-82 and get the game tied at 85 and 89 late in the night. And, when the Magic found themselves trailing by two, Orlando got the ball into the capable hands of Evan Fournier, who dunked with 2.3 remaining to once again knot the score and keep hope alive for a victory.

That wouldn’t happen because Green ran off a Serge Ibaka screen and drilled a 6-footer from the left baseline with less than a second to play. The final result was understandably galling for a Magic team that had every intention of winning yet again – even against an elite opponent.

``It’s tough, there’s no other way to put it. Just a tough loss,’’ Fournier said afterward. ``You can always take positives out of every game. Yeah, we did some good things, but we fell short. It wasn’t enough. The Raptors are one of the best teams in the East and we fought hard and had a good second half, but we’ve just got to play like that for 48 minutes.’’

Even in seeing their modest three-game winning streak come to an end, the Magic go forward knowing that they proved themselves up to the fight brought by Kawhi Leonard (18 points and six rebounds), Ibaka (14 points and nine rebounds) and Kyle Lowry (nine points and seven assists on a sore right ankle).

Riding high while in the midst a feel-good, record-setting scoring spree spread over the past two weeks, the Magic knew full well coming into Tuesday that they were in for a figurative fistfight against the rough and rugged Raptors. Unlike in years prior when they tended to crumble in these sorts of situations, the Magic showed throughout that they were ready for the fight, ready for whatever the veteran-laden Raptors threw at them and ready to prove themselves against one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.

They just didn’t win – not after Green (13 points and three 3-pointers) atoned for blowing his defensive assignment against Fournier with the go-ahead shot in the final second. An Amway Center crowd of 16,016 let out an audible groan as Green sank the shot not far away from the Magic bench. Green made just five of 13 shots, but his last one crushed a Magic team hoping for a quality win against a top team.

``We did a good job of fighting at the end,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said, referring to his team’s sound defense on Green’s shot. ``There were some good things tonight and some things we have to do better. We’ll start (making corrections on Wednesday) and try to play better on Friday.’’

Added Magic forward Wes Iwundu, who had seven points, three assists and a steal and started the final play covering Green before being screened by Ibaka: ``This just shows what we’re capable of. They’re a top defensive and offensive team. We held them under 100 points and we did what we had to do on the defensive end. It could have been a little better on the offensive end, but we fought with the best team in the East and that’s a positive sign that you want to see moving forward.’’

Fournier finished with 27 points, four 3-pointers and four assists. He had 22 points in the second half – none of them bigger than his dunk off a drive left with 2.3 seconds remaining. The play design was similar to the one where Fournier hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Cleveland back on Nov. 5, but this time Fournier took the ball to the rim and finished with authority. His only regret was not running more time of the clock.

``It was the same play that we used against the Cavs,’’ said Fournier, who made 11 of 20 shots and four of nine 3-pointers. ``I wasn’t going to shoot early because we had eight seconds. I could’ve (gone) a little later, but it was hard because I didn’t think I was going to get to the rim as fast as I did.’’

Toronto’s Green, often a forgotten piece in the trade that sent Leonard from San Antonio to Toronto, was supposed to hack Fournier on the play because his team had a foul to give. He said he was too focused on not letting Fournier drill another game-winner.

``It was nice to make a basket after getting scored on. I just didn’t want to give (Fournier)any threes,’’ Green said. ``I was a bad student today; I didn’t pay attention in the huddle that we had a foul to give. … I have seen (Fournier) hit some threes and some game-winners before. I didn’t want to give him any airspace and no threes, just a two. If we go in overtime, I believe in our guys.’’

The Magic believe in their guys too, especially after the way they hung in the game after falling behind by as much as 18 points in the early going. Orlando scored more points in the third quarter (38) than it did in the entire first half (37) to make it a ball game. And, in the end, the Magic became the first team in 20 games to hold the Raptors to fewer than 100 points.

Trailing by 10 at intermission, Orlando strung together a spirited third-quarter run to grab the lead. The Magic hit nine of their first 11 shots of the second half – four of them from beyond the 3-point line – to grab their first lead of the night at 61-59. And by the time Fournier was finished racking up 14 points in the third period, Orlando had a somewhat surprising 75-73 lead heading into the fourth period.

``We don’t feel bad because this was a good test for us,’’ said Magic reserve guard Terrence Ross, who struggled through a two-of-10 shooting night with four 3-point misses. ``Anytime you play a team that has an opportunity to contend for an NBA championship and you go out there and play the way we did, you take some of a positive out of it. You don’t want (to be happy) because we didn’t win, but it took them a lot. We held them under 100, we played good defense and we played good offense in stretches. Now, we have to find ways to maintain it.’’

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic, the NBA’s reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week after leading the Magic to a 3-1 mark, scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Aaron Gordon chipped in 16 points for an Orlando team that shot 40.5 percent from the floor.

Tuesday’s game at the Amway Center will be the last one for an extended period of time. The Magic leave on Thursday for one of its longest road trips of the season. The five-game, nine-night trip will feature games against Denver (Friday), the Lakers (Sunday afternoon), Golden State (Monday), Portland (Nov. 28) and Phoenix (Nov. 30). Following that daunting trip, the Magic will return home for two nights before leaving again for Miami where they will face the Heat on Dec. 4.

Gordon, one of the three captains on the Magic, said Tuesday’s crushing loss can prove fruitful if the team can learn from its execution errors early in the fourth quarter. It’s OK to take positives from a loss, Gordon said, if the Magic use the moment to motivate them going forward.

``It’s just about how well we can move on from this now,’’ Gordon stressed. ``It’s about how quick we can bounce back from a tough game and a tough loss and show up for the next game.’’

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