Toronto's 102-98 win over Orlando on Sunday could be described easily in three series in the final moments of the fourth quarter.
The Magic were putting in another listless effort and finally got a stop on a night the Raptors were scoring when they wanted. The rebound went long and Toronto tracked it down as Orlando knocked it into the backcourt. Another missed shot led to another offensive rebound. Leandro Barbosa then drained a long two, giving the Raptors a four-point lead.
Seemingly the next possession, after Orlando had cut the lead down to two, Toronto collected another offensive rebound and it was Jerryd Bayless driving to the rim and drawing a foul on Brandon Bass. With the Magic down by four again, Jameer Nelson came across a Dwight Howard screen and hoisted a three, it missed but Dwight Howard grabbed the rebound. He was looking to reset when the ball was slapped out of his hands. The Raptors got the possession and ended the game.
Toronto, yes the 21-win team at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, defeated Orlando for the second time in three games (winning the season series) with a 102-98 win Sunday, leaving everyone with Orlando scratching its head about where this team is headed as the postseason draws five games away.
The Magic, as they have often done recently, looked like they were in complete control but unable to pull away. Shorthanded once again, Leandro Barbosa and the athletic backcourt of the Raptors was able to get into the paint and cause troubles. What hurt was that nobody was particularly active on defense -- even Dwight Howard.
Still, Orlando had control of the game. The team entered the fourth quarter with a six-point lead. The Magic had a lead for most of the game, but failed to extend it much far past 10. It could have easily gotten to that point. Howard was having his way with Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and Reggie Evans. Howard had 31 points, shooting 11 for 20 from the floor and 9 for 15 from the line -- a 58.3 percent true shooting percentage.
However, he only had nine rebounds, ending his streak of 33 games with a double double (you are safe for now Kevin Love). This was indicative a much larger problem for Orlando.
The Raptors, as Stan Van Gundy bluntly pointed out postgame, were willing to outwork the Magic throughout the game. They were quicker to loose balls and offensive rebounds. It showed in the 15 offensive rebounds Toronto collected and the 22 second-chance points the team got. Howard has to do so much for Orlando, it is hard to point him out or blame him for anything. Other players on the Magic certainly have to do more too, but Howard was pretty absent on the glass tonight too.
It did not help that Toronto also shot 50.6 percent from the floor and posted a 53.8 percent effective field goal percentage. The Raptors were on a shooting tear and were able to stay in the game, taking advantage of the Magic's lack of a killer instinct.
They used a 13-2 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter -- while Malik Allen was in the game for Howard -- to erase that 6-point lead and make the game a tight one the rest of the way. The Magic were able to execute until the very end, when three turnovers in the final three minutes decided things. It just showed the level of disinterest in the game.
It is hard to tell whether Orlando truly believes the team can flip the switch in two weeks when the playoffs being (Stan Van Gundy does not think so, succinctly saying that the team did not even try to do it tonight) or if there is some deeper problem. These consistency issues have plagued the team all year and it just appears this is who it is. Then again, the problem could be a lack of practicing. It is pure speculation for sure.
What is not is the fact the Magic are struggling to get consistent efforts heading into the postseason and each game seems to be more uncertain than the last. There may not be many worse losses than the one tonight and no matter how you read it, it is not a good sign for a team believing it is championship caliber.