ORLANDO – Everything was seemingly set up just right for the Magic. The Hawks were holding the league’s worst record at 6-27 while on a 10-game losing streak. They were without star point guard Trae Young who missed the game due to an ankle injury. The Magic held a 2nd quarter 18 point lead at home in their last game of the decade and yet, Orlando found a way to lose this one.
Nikola Vucevic once again put together a quality game of 27 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Evan Fournier chipped in with 22 points albeit on 21 shots and DJ Augustin contributed a spark off the bench with 17 points.
Orlando was missing Aaron Gordon, a key piece in their starting lineup who was out with what Coach Clifford described as ankle soreness. However, given that unfortunate circumstance, this is the type of game that you cannot lose.
Before the game, Coach Clifford was speaking about mistakes and their impact saying, “Nothing loses more in the NBA than mistake players, guys that make mistake, after mistake, after mistake. It kills you.” It should be noted that Coach Clifford was not referring to any of his players as mistake players.
Orlando forced 20 Atlanta Hawks turnovers, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the mistakes they made that led to their blown lead.
“I think he [Brandon Goodwin] had seven points in like the last minute and a half all of them mistakes by the way and then we went under on a Huerter pick and roll and just gave him a three and those are mistakes. I mean the pick and roll plays, but it’s awful defense.”
Coach went on to say “Our defense tonight was more than good enough to win obviously. I mean, you hold anybody in this league to a hundred and one, but it was our offense in the second half, but again, that’s what lead to that. Instead of going in with a lead of seventeen or fifteen or whatever, it was eight or nine.”
The Magic continued their trend of poor free throw shooting. Coming into this game, Orlando was shooting 69.2% from the charity strike over the last 3 games down from their season average of 77.2%. Against the Hawks, Orlando only shot 58.3% from the line going 14-24.
While Jonathan Isaac struggled from the free throw line, going 1-5, he still churned out a solid game of 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. Isaac drew the matchup of John Collins and played excellent defense on him. Collins was held to just 10 points after putting up 34 points against Chicago.
The Magic shot an abysmal 20% from beyond the arc, connecting on just 5 of their three-point attempts, 4 of their makes coming in the 2nd quarter. Up 10 at the half, Orlando seemed to be in control, however they only managed to score 15 points in the third quarter, resulting in them completely blowing their lead.
Coach Clifford on Orlando’s blown lead, “When the ball was inside out in the first half we’re getting good shots and then like we have a tendency to do we get up 12-14 all of a sudden we’re just you know, we’re just taking shots or we forget how we’re getting the quality of shots we’re getting.”
Coach Clifford went on to say, “You know in the second half, you know, we started off I think turnover, questionable shot, questionable shot, you and I think they scored three straight.”
Nikola Vucevic on the team’s consistency, “A big part of this league is to be consistent, individually as a player and also as a team you have to be consistent.”
For a second straight game, Markelle Fultz struggled, going 1-7 from the field which brings him to a combined 2-17 over the last two outings.
Coach Clifford when asked about the message to Markelle responded with “Just keep playing. You know, I mean, he got good shots just like he did in Milwaukee, and you know he played fine, you know that’s just part of this whole thing.”
Coach continued with, “This his first time through it too, so playing all these games, he’s playing big minutes and you know learning to deal with all that is part of being a good player. I don’t even worry about him, he’s mentally tough guy, he’s a very serious committed player and I’m certain he’ll play better Wednesday.”
Overall this was a tough loss for Orlando. Now their focus shifts to Wednesday, where they look to bring in the New Year and decade with a ‘W’ in the win column against the Washington Wizards.