Postgame Report: Magic at Raptors

Shelvin Mack
by John Denton

TORONTO – Terrence Ross didn’t need to peer up at the massive scoreboard hanging above the court at the Air Canada Centre to know that Sunday was a victory for him.

Simply playing again for the first time in 57 games and 4½ months had Ross feeling like a winner.

Orlando ultimately lost 112-101 to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday in a game that meant very little to either franchise because of their positions in the NBA standings. However, the game meant the world to Ross, who was back on the floor after a long layoff caused by the trauma suffered in his right knee on Nov. 29.

``I felt good and it was a tribute to all of the workouts and the work with the strength (and conditioning) coaches,’’ Ross said. ``Just being able to play is the victory. It felt really good.’’

As for the actual game, Toronto (58-22) ended the intrigue early by drilling six first-quarter 3-pointers and storming to a lead as large as 15 points before halftime. The Magic (24-56) were more concerned about how Ross looked in limited minutes while playing for the first time since he sprained the MCL and fractured the tibia in his right leg.

In 10 minutes, Ross swished a fourth-quarter 3-pointer, missed four other shots and handed out two assists. He seemed to move without any limitations and was active on the defensive end of the floor for Orlando, which dropped its third game of the season to Toronto. If Ross plays in the final two games of the season, his minutes will be closely monitored again.

``It’s great to see him back out there. He can do a lot of things and he’s going to help us when he’s back next year at full strength,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``He definitely looked a little rusty tonight which is completely to be expected, but that’s not what we’re worried about. We’re about getting him back on the floor and getting comfortable again.’’

Orlando got 16 points from forward Aaron Gordon, 14 from Mario Hezonja and 11 from reserve guard Shelvin Mack. Nikola Vucevic scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 23 minutes, while Khem Birch – a native of Montreal who was playing his first NBA game back in Canada – had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Gordon said it made him smile just seeing Ross being back on the floor and doing what he loves again.

``I missed him, definitely, and I wish we could have had him back (sooner) because injuries were a big part of this season,’’ Gordon said. ``(Injuries) are part of the game and we’ve got to overcome that. To see T-Ross back on the floor, especially playing against Toronto, I’m just glad that he’s healthy. He’s going to have a big summer and he’ll come back and have a big impact on winning for us.’’

The Magic had trouble keeping up with a Toronto team that drilled 17 of 40 3-pointers. C.J. Miles scored 22 points and hit five 3-pointers, while rookie forward OG Anunoby added 21 points, eight rebounds and five more 3-pointers. Orlando got within six in the third period before Miles and Anunoby got hot again from the 3-point line to push the Toronto lead back out to double digits.

Serge Ibaka, who was traded from Orlando to Toronto last February for Ross, scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Raptors. Seven Toronto players reached double figures in scoring as they swept the season series from the Magic for a fifth time.

Initially expected back by early March, Ross suffered a setback in his rehabilitation and recently it began to look as if the 27-year-old guard wouldn’t play again this season. However, after stepping up his recovery and on-court work in recent weeks, Ross was cleared to return for Sunday’s game.

Coincidentally, it was being played in Toronto – a place where Ross played for the first 4 ½ years of his NBA career prior to being traded to Orlando last February, prompting him to say, ``it will be good to be somewhere I’m familiar.’’ Ross said not playing again this season was a thought he never allowed into his psyche.

``I never really lost the faith in coming back and I’m just proud of all the work that I put in,’’ he said. ``Since I got hurt, since I was on the crutches, since almost every day, just thinking about (getting back to basketball). Any time I pick up a ball, the first thought is being back out there.’’

Orlando got center Vucevic and Gordon back on the court on Sunday after both missed the prior game with minor injuries. Rookie Jonathan Isaac (ankle sprain) and guards Evan Fournier (knee sprain) and Jonthon Simmons (bruised wrist) continued to be out of action.

Those injuries, combined with the one that had Ross on crutches for weeks and out of action for months, played a major role in the Magic’s season going south, Vogel said. The head coach pushed for the franchise to acquire Ross last season, feeling he could be a reliable starter for the Magic for years to come. Prior to his injury, Ross averaged 9.0 points and 3.2 rebounds despite shooting just 40.7 percent from the floor and 32.9 percent from 3-point range.

``He’s a dynamic athlete on the break, a consistent perimeter shooter and another athletic defender. We struggled defensively a lot of this season and losing him really hurt us in that regard,’’ Vogel said. ``It was one of the many injuries that we suffered. We had high hopes for (Ross) because he finished last year strong for us. When we acquired him in the trade, we viewed him as our starting shooting guard who would have a big impact on our team this year. He was going to play a big, big role and not just the bench role that he played here (in Toronto). So, he was a big loss for us.’’

Toronto, which has already locked up the East’s top seed and home-court advantage through the East Finals if it makes it that far, rested star guard DeMar DeRozan and starting center Jonas Valanciunas in Sunday’s game. The Raptors close the season with road games at Detroit and Miami in their pursuit of the franchise’s first 60-win season.

The Magic will be back in action again on Monday when they face the Bucks in Milwaukee. Following a day off on Tuesday, Orlando closes the regular season on Wednesday at the Amway Center against the Washington Wizards.

Orlando trailed 61-50 at intermission and that score could have been even closer had Gordon not missed two of free throws inside the final second of the first half. The Magic were lucky to be as close as they were considering that the Raptors made 10 3-pointers in the first half, while they connected on just two of 10 tries.

Ross played just five minutes in the first half, but his reputation as a stellar shooter created a couple of opportunities almost immediately. Within seconds of being on the floor, he had a pinpoint pass to teammate Bismack Biyombo for a dunk.

Throughout Ross’ lengthy recovery, Vogel told him stories of how Paul George worked diligently in his recovery from a broken leg to play six games at the end of the 2014-15 season. That small sample gave George the motivation and an example of what he needed to do in the summer of 2015 to get himself ready for a full season. Ross used that story as motivation and it helped him in his return to the basketball court.

``That’s kind of my mindset,’’ Ross said, comparing his return to George’s from 2014-15. ``I wanted to kind of see where I’m at and know that I’m healthy and good. Going into the summer, it’s good to know that I’m healthy and there’s nothing wrong with me.’’

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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