By John Denton Nov. 13, 2017
OAKLAND – With the Orlando Magic facing what he referred to as ``the best team in the world,’’ Frank Vogel instructed his squad early on Monday that one of the best ways to slow down the Golden State Warriors’ record-setting offense was with some efficient offense of their own.
That strategy worked quite well for a half for the Magic, who matched the Warriors stride for stride and made it to intermission tied. However, when Orlando’s offense broke down in the third quarter – the time when the Warriors so often deliver their knock-out punches – it cost the Magic any shot of earning what would have registered as a signature win.
Golden State, far and away the NBA’s top team in the third quarter again this season, took advantage of Orlando’s sputtering offense in the all-important period after halftime to grab control of the game and coast to a 110-100 defeat of the Magic.
``That (third quarter) was just a stretch where we didn’t execute well enough and credit them because they made shots,’’ said Magic coach Frank Vogel, whose team fell behind by 15 in the third quarter and by as much as 21 early in the fourth period. ``(The Warriors) are a unique team on both ends of the floor and they cause you to do some unique things and when they are switching everything they force you into one-on-one basketball. We took the bait and played one-on-one too much.���’
A sellout crowd of 19,596 at noisy Oracle Arena saw the Warriors (11-3) ignore a halftime tie and outscore the Magic (8-6) 32-19 in the third quarter. Coming into the game the Warriors ranked first in the NBA in scoring (32.6 points on average) in the third period while the Magic ranked second (29.8 points) in that same category. Still, it was no contest in the third on this night.
``I think the problem tonight was definitely offensively,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 16 points and two 3-pointers despite playing through a head cold. ``The ball stuck too much. Obviously, they scouted us really good and we could never find a rhythm offensively. It was a mix of them being more physical, messed up some coverages and then when we have to walk the ball up, it’s hard for us offensively.’’
The Warriors, heavy favorites to win a third title in four seasons, have turned third-quarter demolition of foes into an art form. During their now seven-game winning streak, the Warriors have outscored the Clippers (plus-four), Spurs (plus-11), Nuggets (plus-22), Heat (plus-five), Timberwolves (plus-18), 76ers (plus-15) and Magic (plus-13) in each third quarter. In its past three games, Golden State has scored 44, 36 and 32 points in the third quarters.
``They’re a really good third quarter team and we were down a little bit and there was a lack of energy on my part and that’s unacceptable,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. ``I really feel like we could have won that game if we had done a couple of things differently. But we’ll see them again in Orlando.’’
Orlando shot 48.9 percent from the floor and turned the ball over just six times in the first half to get to halftime tied. However, Orlando’s crisp ball movement, aggressive cutting and clutch shooting disappeared in the third period.
In the first six minutes after halftime, Orlando made just two of nine shots and turned the ball over three times, while the Warriors did as they pleased offensively (nine-of-13 shooting) to race ahead 78-63. The numbers weren’t much better over the final half of the third quarter and the Magic finished the period with five-of-18 shooting with four turnovers. The machine-like Warriors, who didn’t miss a beat even though Stephen Curry (thigh bruise) was out, made 13 of 23 shots, four of five free throws and added two 3-pointers in the period.
``We kind of rushed some shots and let their pressure affect our offense too much instead of doing what worked for us in the first half, which was moving the ball,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who scored a team-high 20 points and hit two 3-pointers. ``We went away from that in the third and we had some defensive breakdowns and they took advantage of it.’’
Orlando, losers of two straight for just the second time this season, got point guard Elfrid Payton back on Monday from lingering hamstring soreness. The Magic shot just 42 percent and made only 10 of 32 3-pointers against a Golden State defense that is as quick and active as any in the NBA. Payton had four points and five assists in 25 minutes, while Jonathon Simmons added 13 points off the bench.
Gordon, who hails from nearby San Jose, has yet to beat the team he grew up watching as a child. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Orlando from losing a ninth straight game to the Warriors with five of those defeats coming in Oakland.
Said Gordon: ``We can stay with that team and we’ll see them in Orlando (on Dec. 1).’’
Kevin Durant scored 21 points, handed out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds in limited minutes. Draymond Green chipped in 20, while Shaun Livingston – the starter in place of Curry – scored 16. Golden State saw its streak of consecutive wins by 17-or-more points end at six – a mark set on Saturday that equaled a NBA record set by the 1989-90 Phoenix Suns.
While the Warriors are heavy favorites to win their third title in the past four years, the Magic have made major strides by adopting some of Golden State’s principles of space-and-pace and aggressively seeking out 3-point shots. Monday’s game featured the NBA’s top two 3-point shooting teams with the Warriors ranking first (41.6 percent) and the Magic a close second (40.6 percent).
There are other similarities as well. Golden State is first in the league in assists per game (31.0), while Orlando is third (25.2). Also, the Warriors have been just a tick better than the Magic in overall scoring (first and fourth), field goal percentage (first and sixth) and 3-point makes per game (second and fourth).
Orlando will wrap up its four-game swing through the Western Conference on Wednesday night in Portland against Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Trail Blazers. The Magic won 115-109 in Portland last January – a game in which Vucevic scored 30 points.
``If we play like we played in the first half tonight and make the other team work, we’re going to be OK,’’ Vucevic said, looking ahead to the Portland game. ``But defensively we have to pick it up because we had way too breakdowns of simple things that the coaching staff puts in for us. We just don’t follow it and try to go into our own things sometimes and have mental breakdowns. We can’t have those against a team like Portland that has Lillard, McCollum and (Jusef) Nurkic. So, we’ve got to be at our best against them. It would be a big win for us to go home 2-2 on this West Coast trip.’’
The Magic looked every bit the equals of the Warriors in the first half and got the game tied at 56 by intermission. Once down 52-44, Orlando ripped off a 12-2 burst to briefly regain the lead. Tied at 56 at the half, the Magic felt they were in good shape. However, another dominant third period by the Warriors ruined the hopes of Orlando.
``It’s a 48-minute game. It’s good that we were tied at halftime, but it doesn’t mean too much,’’ Vucevic said. ``In that third quarter we had way too many breakdowns. That’s what they do and why they are the best team. They make you make mistakes and they have great players. Any mistakes we make they turn into points and they play great basketball.
``You want to beat them and when they are the best team everybody wants to take them off the top,’’ Vucevic added. ``But they not only have great players, they play so great together. That’s what makes them so good. If all of them tried to play one-on-one basketball and do their own thing, they wouldn’t be so good. But the fact that they play together, that’s what makes them so good.’’
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