This was not to be Orlando's night. But even then, they were going to fight to the bitter end no matter what it would take.
Limited to eight players for virtually the second night in a row, Orlando employed some unusual strategies to give itself a chance. The Magic did not have enough gas in the tank as the Bucks led pretty much from start to finish and held on for a 96-85 win Saturday at Bradley Center.
You cannot fault the Magic for not doing everything they could even if they came up just a bit short. Orlando used all kinds of strategies to try and conserve energy and just give itself a fighting chance. Stan Van Gundy was real liberal with his timeouts not just using them to make points of emphasis. With the Magic struggling to defend one-on-one, Van Gundy went to a zone to slow down the suddenly effective Bucks offense. He even went to the Hack-a-Bogut strategy.
The scary part was how it all almost worked.
Orlando was within six with about two and a half minutes to go and Jason Williams was getting into a rhythm pushing the ball and hitting 3-pointers. His turnover on a behind-the-back pass to Quentin Richardson spelled doom. Bogut, who shot five for 16 from the foul line, finally hit a free throw and then made another one for good measure, sending the Bradley Center crowd into a near frenzy. The Magic's strategy to foul Bogut late in the game was a last-ditch effort to keep it close. A surprising one, considering Orlando has a foul-missing big man of its own.
It worked for a while, but the Magic could not hit enough shots down the stretch. Every shot seemed to be hitting off the front iron as a team that fought so hard in Detroit and tonight finally succumbed to the pressure put upon them by the absence of Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Mickael Pietrus and JJ Redick. Hard to believe how good the team actually played without such key players.
Orlando shot just 41.5 percent from the floor and six for 22 from beyond the arc. By the end, it was clear Orlando just did not have enough to push to the finish line despite whatever effort the team could put forward.
Individual shooting percentages illuminate how much effort it took just to stay in this one.
Vince Carter scored 20 points and seemed to be able to get to the basket at will. But he shot a horrid seven for 21 from the field and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. Rashard Lewis was six for 17 and had 13 points. He did a lot of work in the post but could never really get his outside game going.
What made things worse was Andrew Bogut absolutely killing Marcin Gortat on the offensive glass throughout the night.
Gortat has been typically very dependable when starting for Dwight Howard. But for whatever reason he could not handle Andrew Bogut tonight. Bogut scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds including eight on the offensive end. Gortat received very little help defending in the post. Stan Van Gundy took the blame for kind of leaving Gortat on an island, but also was not pleased with the effort Gortat was putting in against Bogut. We have certainly seen better from Gortat. Tonight is undoubtedly one of his worst games in his career.
Gortat's did not score until the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter and finished with two points and 10 rebounds. Bogut was pretty much unstoppable down low.
In the end though it was Orlando's inability to make shots that was the difference between tonight and last night. Against the Pistons, the Magic could not miss. Tonight they could not hit a shot. Brandon Bass, who went 11 for 12 on Friday night, scored 12 points on an uncharacteristically icy five for 13 from the floor.
There just was not enough firepower and the defense was inconsistent without depth to support and Dwight Howard roaming in the paint.
If anything, the Magic learned the worth of their depth this weekend. On most nights, even their bench will put up a fight and give the team a chance to win. But obviously having the guys that were missing would make this team much better. Here is hoping they are better by Monday's game against Atlanta.