Postgame Report: Magic Unable to Slow Down Pacers in Second Half

by John Denton

ORLANDO – At long last, the Orlando Magic’s offense finally looked like a well-oiled machine in Sunday’s first half because of how it shared the ball and rained in shots from all over the Amway Center.

The bad news, however, is that the same sort of offense was nowhere to be found in a sluggish third quarter and the Magic’s usually reliable defense let them down in what devolved into a head-scratching loss to the shorthanded Indiana Pacers.

Up as much as 13 at one point in a hot-shooting first half, the Magic saw a potentially promising night disappear when they were lifeless in the third quarter and defenseless throughout in a 109-102 home loss to an Indiana squad that dressed just 10 players.

``Coach (Steve Clifford) always talks about, `You get what you deserve in this league,’ and tonight we definitely didn’t deserve a win,’’ said forward Aaron Gordon, whose Magic got outscored 58-42 over the second half.

On a night when nothing seemed to go right for the Magic after halftime, there was also an odd bit of NBA history made. Orlando (3-7) and Indiana (6-4) combined to shoot just 11 free throws – six by the Magic and five by the Pacers – to break the previous NBA low of 12 set in 1980 by the Los Angeles Lakers (three) and San Diego Clippers (nine).

Asked if the record low number of free throw attempts were indicative of his team’s lack of physicality and aggression on both ends of the floor, Clifford pointed to his team getting outrebounded 44-37 and said, ``I would say that might be more true from us (not playing with enough physicality).’’

Orlando followed up its best half of offense of the season with a dreadful second half that allowed Indiana to nab the victory. After shooting 55.3 percent from the floor, burying eight 3-pointers and scoring 60 points in the first half, the Magic mustered just 42 points, seven threes and 35.7 percent shooting over the final 24 minutes.

But the most troubling aspect of the night was the manner in which the Pacers gashed Orlando’s highly acclaimed defense with a bevy of mid-range jump shots and cuts for easy baskets. Indiana drilled 20 of its first 33 shots of the second half and shot 52.2 percent from the floor for the game. Indiana opened the second half with a 12-0 surge, outscored the Magic 30-17 in the third period and got several big shots down the stretch to hold off Orlando.

``I can tell you that I’m surprised because we played a good, energetic first half and we had nothing the last 24 minutes,’’ Clifford said. ``Twelve-0 to start (the third quarter) and our ball movement, which was good in the first half … energetic, quick and crisp (disappeared). The extra dribble (by Indiana) to probe to start the third crushed us.’’

After falling down by as much as 14 in a forgettable second half, the Magic got within 105-99 on a dunk by point guard Markelle Fultz (eight points and four assists in 24 minutes). However, Indiana offseason acquisition, Malcolm Brogdon (19 points, eight assists and six rebounds), responded with a 3-pointer that capped a miserable night for the Magic.

``That is definitely disappointing for us to lose that way,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 11 points in each half to finish with a team-high 22. ``That was a much-needed game for us for sure. We have a five-game home stretch and we’ve got to take these wins. This is definitely a very disappointing loss.’’

Orlando came into the game ranked last in the NBA in scoring, shooting and 3-point accuracy, but it seemed to be coming out of that funk with some solid offensive play on Wednesday in Dallas, in Friday’s defeat of Memphis and Sunday’s first half. Through their offensive struggles, the Magic were able to rely on a defense that ranked second in point allowed per game, sixth in field goal percentage allowed and 11thin 3-point shooting allowed.

On Sunday, Orlando had few answers for an Indiana offense built around the high-screen driving abilities of Brogdon and T.J. McConnell (12 points), the shooting of T.J. Warren (19 points) and Doug McDermott (18 points and three 3-pointers) and the stellar all-around play of Domantas Sabonis (21 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists).

``It seemed like Indiana was getting whatever they wanted,’’ said Gordon, who saw Warren drill nine of 16 shots mostly against him. ``I think it’s just a lack of energy, a lack of focus, and it was disappointing for sure. This is definitely a game that we needed.’’

Nikola Vucevic added 18 points and 17 rebounds and moved into third place on the Magic’s all-time scoring list. The 7-foot center, who is in his seventh season in Orlando, passed Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, who scored 8,289 points while wearing the Magic pinstripes from 2000-04.

Vucevic now trails only Dwight Howard (11,435) and Nick Anderson (10,650) on the Magic’s all-time scoring list. While he was thrilled to join such rarified company, he was dismayed by the Magic’s lack of purpose in a wayward third quarter.

``It changed the game totally,’’ Vucevic said. ``We played pretty well in the first half, had a pretty good lead, moved the ball and we were getting what we wanted. But in the second half, our offense affected out defense. We couldn’t score, our ball movement wasn’t good, we couldn’t get to the second action and we took a lot of quick shots. That led them to having easy points on the other end because we couldn’t really set our defense. That hurt us and we never really recovered.’’

Gordon chipped in 13 points, while Jonathan Isaac added 10 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots. Isaac came into the night as the NBA’s top shot blocker (3.11 per game), but not even he could help rescue Orlando’s usually stout defense on this night.

Orlando got a big boost early in the day on Sunday when it learned that standout shooting guard Terrence Ross would be available to play after missing two games with right knee soreness. After struggling mightily in the early going of the season, Ross showed signs of a break out by drilling his first four shots on Sunday and scoring nine points in his first nine minutes of action. Ross finished with 12 points in 19 minutes, but he was clearly bothered by his team’s poor second half.

``That third quarter just killed us,’’ Ross said. ``They went on a run from the start and we didn’t have anything to do or say about it.’’

Indiana was playing severely short-handed once again on Sunday night. Still weeks away from getting star Victor Oladipo (ruptured quad tendon) back, the Pacers had just 10 players dressed and available on Sunday because of injuries to Myles Turner (ankle sprain), Jeremy Lamb (ankle sprain) and Goga Bitadze (mild concussion).

Sunday’s game was the first meeting of the season between the Magic and the Pacers. Orlando won the final three meetings last season – all of them with stirring fourth-quarter rallies led by Ross. There would be no rallies on this night because of the sputtering offense and the absent defense.

Said Ross: ``They came in and hit shot after shot and we didn’t do (anything) about it.’’

Orlando’s season-long five-game, 10-day home stand continues on Wednesday when it hosts the Philadelphia 76ers. The Magic split four games with the Sixers last season, winning both times at the Amway Center. It will be Fultz’s first regular-season against the team that picked him first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

On this night, Fultz was more concerned about what he could have done differently in a third quarter that started poorly and proceeded to get worse the longer it went on.

``They came out strong and we came out weak,’’ Fultz said of the third quarter. ``We started a little slow and they hurt us. They came out … 12-0, and I think it cost us the game. One of the key points was that T.J. McConnell came off the bench and helped them by scoring a lot. I don’t know, we gave up some easy ones that we shouldn’t have given up, mid-range – which we try to make teams live by – but we’ve got to adjust and when people are making stuff in the game, we’ve got to take that away.’’

As well as the Magic played offensively in the first half when they led by nine at intermission, they were as disjoined and out of sync in the third period. When they connected on just five of 16 tries and turned the ball over four times in the third period, it allowed Indiana to take an 81-77 lead into the fourth period.

The Pacers opened the second half with a 12-0 burst to take the lead and they made 13 of 22 shots – and four of five 3-pointers – in the third period to grab control.

All of that Indiana damage nullified a first half in which the Magic shot 55.3 percent and drilled eight of 13 3-pointers. Orlando set season highs for points in a first half (60), field goals in a first half (26), 3-pointers in a first half (eight) and assists in a first half (18).

In the end none of that offensive progress mattered a bit because of the sluggish and sloppy play in the second half. This time, the struggles came on offensive and defensive ends and they cost the Magic a chance to capture a very winnable game.

``These games, there’s a lot of them, but they go quick,’’ Gordon said, referring to his team needing to play with more of a sense of urgency. ``We’ve got to get it together as quickly as we can. This is definitely one that we needed, but we’ve got another one on Wednesday.’’

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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