Sunday, November 18, 2012

Toronto's Execution Too Much for Magic

Your now 3-6 Orlando Magic dropped their first game of the season that they should have won. After clawing back from a rough beginning to claim a fourth period advantage in this contest, the Magic lost 97-86 in Toronto. The Raptors improved to 3-7 and did not look like a team who just 24 hours before Sunday's showdown got stomped in Boston. Toronto had the fresher legs in crunch time and ran Jacque Vaughn's team into the Canadian ground. The difference in execution down the stretch is all you needed to look at as the Raptors appeared very desperate for victory. At least we'll never question this Magic roster's effort. We saw a Compton, California showdown between Arron Afflalo and DeMar DeRozan, as well as a homecoming for Andrew Nicholson. DeRozan looked like a Vince Carter/Kobe Bryant hybrid at times (I'm trying not to vomit) as DeMar poured in 20 points and 9 rebounds. Afflalo mustered 15 points. Glen Davis posted his 6th double-double of the young year with 16 points and 12 assists. Nik Vucevic managed 12 points and 6 boards. Nicholson had a nervous 2-for-7 shooting day but had a respectable 8 points in front of his fellow countrymen. E'Twaun Moore provided the extra bench scoring punch with 16 points. For the first time since the opening weekend of the regular season, DeQuan Jones was back on the court starting his third career game. He filled in at shooting guard for the ill JJ Redick. 

Coach Vaughn on another slow start: "We had to play comeback basketball again. And when you do that, sometimes you speed yourself up. When you speed yourself up you have turnovers."

Just like in Detroit, Orlando started out sluggishly allowing the Raptors to begin the contest ahead 20-10 fueled by a 12-2 run. Jameer tends to have the advantage over Jose Calderon over the years. Throw the previous matchups out the window. The Spaniard began his afternoon capitalizing on his first two 3-point attempts as Calderon would finish with 18 assists. Did Rajon Rondo and Jose switch bodies after Saturday afternoon? Nik Vucevic and Arron Afflalo scored the Magic's first 17 points of the contest before E'Twaun Moore drilled a jumper to end that trend. The Magic trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and were down 22-32 at the conclusion of the period. These sluggish starts are a terrible habit to get into.

Coach Vaughn on needing to be focused out of the gate: "We have to be ready. We have to understand what coverage we're in to start the game...For us to have a chance to win, we have to be ready to play."

The second period saw a lot of rotation experimentation for Coach Vaughn as he tried out both big and small lineups. If not for Glen Davis' 8-point second quarter outburst, Orlando would've been in massive trouble. In a duplicate of Friday night at Detroit, Jameer went into the locker room having missed all 5 of his shot attempts. Props to E'Twaun for picking up the PG slack. Raptors enjoyed a 49-41 halftime cushion. My main gripe? It's great that Big Baby started making shots, but Nik Vucevic was 4-for-5 from the field yet didn't get a single shot attempt in that second quarter. It's inexcusable considering Andrea Bargnani was in foul trouble.

DeQuan Jones didn't take a single shot until the 3rd period, where he would contribute 7 fantastic points and was the main spark that got the comeback going. Orlando would slowly but surely chip at Toronto's 8-point lead. Coach Vaughn made sure his team focused on attacking the paint and forcing the Raptors into committing tick-tack fouls aplenty. It also helps when Toronto's big men struggled at the free throw line. Jameer Nelson's first bucket came with 1:50 remaining the period, tying the contest at 65-65. A Nelson lay-up seconds later gave the Magic the lead. Then the co-captain drilled a jumper to put Orlando up three points as Nelson was on his own personal 6-0 run. The Magic led 69-67 going into the final period. Jameer finished with 8 points and 9 assists on a pitiful 3-for-13 shooting. 

The wheels fell off the bus after that. Once Jameer hit the bench for his breather, the ball movement suddenly stopped under E'Twaun Moore's watch. Not having Redick as a ball handling buffer allowed for the accelerated collapse. It didn't help that Glen Davis' 'hero ball' mode hurt more than helped his teammates. It's a bad omen when Amir Johnson is making a 3-pointer and blindly succeeding at tossing up hot garbage in the post. Amir of all people had fourteen 4th quarter points. You hate to wonder what happens if you have an athletic Kyle O'Quinn defend Amir, but that's what I was doing as Big Baby and Nik couldn't contain Johnson's leaping abilities. So many crucial misses and turnovers for Orlando made the defeat extra frustrating in what was a shockingly very physical matchup. 4 turnovers each from Jameer and E'Twaun is crippling. 

The Magic succumbed to Lithuanian Heritage Day and the daunting Jonas Valanciunas Bobblehead Day. I'm allowed to be sarcastically cheesy. Orlando gets to finish their 3-game road trip in Atlanta on Monday. Let's see if Coach Vaughn's crew has enough energy for this conclusion to a back-to-back, unlike the defeat in Minnesota. Playing the Hawks on Monday will mark the first time this season the Magic take on a Southeast division opponent. If Orlando wants to be taken seriously, they need to compete early and hard against a team that the basketball world already assumes will finish behind Miami in the division standings. Atlanta has won the last 6 meetings with Orlando. 

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