The Magic wanted to reach into the well one more time. Detroit was doing nothing to pull away from Orlando despite parading to the free throw line and taking advantage of some lethargic defense, uninspired offense and tired legs. Orlando was right there. The team just needed to get the momentum going and ride it all the way to a victory like it did Sunday night against Toronto.
There was nothing left though. Six games in nine nights finally took its toll.
The Magic did not have much in reserve and did not have that extra gear. Those little moments where the team lacked focus piled up and turned into an overall lackluster effort in an 89-78 loss at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Monday.
Stan Van Gundy refused to chalk up the team's poor effort to the six games in nine nights to open the season. It is just an excuse. And it is a reality of this truncated season, but it is hard to say the Magic were completely there mentally or physically against a Pistons team that had not played since Saturday (that extra day of rest may have mattered).
Orlando turned the ball over 17 times and shot just 44.4 percent from the floor. Those stats were not quite telling. The Magic had a lead in the second quarter, but could not pull away late in the half to get the cushion they needed. The Pistons attacked the basket and the Magic seemed to devolve into desperation to foul or into an open door to the basket.
It was in the 50 percent shooting and the even more astonishing 33 free throw attempts that the Pistons built their lead and held off the Magic. Detroit entered the game with the worst free throw rate in the league. The Pistons getting to the line for 33 free throw attempts made for a 53.2 free throw rate according to HoopData. In an incredibly slow game -- the pace was 82 -- each point felt like a larger weight for the Magic to climb.
Give Orlando some credit for keeping the game close. The team played absolutely horrible for the entire second half. The team opened like a sieve defensively and looked to force passes into tiny holes or take poor shots. Even when the Magic got to the basket shots came up short.
Dwight Howard was missing hook shots short. Jason Richardson had some good post-up looks against the small Pistons backcourt but was unable to convert. It was a clear sign that the team was a bit fatigued from the constant back to backs and the constant traveling the schedule has called for to this point.
As Van Gundy pointed out, that is the way things are this season, so everyone better get used to it. Nights like tonight cannot happen again. Certainly not against stronger opponents.
The Magic, like Sunday's win over the Raptors, kept the game relatively close. It was five- or six-point game for much of the fourth quarter. Orlando just did not have the ability to find that extra gear like it did Sunday night to earn the win. In fact they never really threatened.
Dwight Howard fouled out with 2:36 to play, losing focus long enough to try and lean into a screen to free up an offensive player. Without Howard in the game, Orlando was desperate to find that spark offensively. There were a few good looks that would have made the margin manageable heading into the final moments. Ryan Anderson missed an open 3-pointer in the closing stages from the top of the key. His shot was a bit rushed but he did not have enough on it to get it in. The broadcasters even said it was the first shot he has seemingly taken all year that looked no good as he shot it.
The extra gear was not there for Orlando. A loss was inevitable.
In the end, nobody's offensive numbers looked good. Howard led the team with 19 points, shooting 8 for 14 and 3 for 8 from the foul line. Anderson and Turkoglu had 13 points each. Turkoglu's 13 came on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc and just one two-point shot, a sign that he was not even trying to attack the basket. J.J. Redick had a strong second quarter that helped the Magic push to the lead, but he finished with a disappointing eight points on 3-for-10 shooting.
It was not a good night.
On the other end, the Magic had no answer for Ben Gordon. Gordon scored 26 points and had six assists. He completely broke down the Magic defense throughout the game and broke their back with a wild long two-pointer after some solid defense from the Magic.
That is really the scary thing about this game. Orlando left one on the board. With a more focused and concerted effort this is easily a win. What other game could you give up just 89 points and lose? There are not many. And that says a lot about where the Magic are -- or maybe where the Pistons are.
Throw this game on the scrap heap. The Magic had a chance to win, but failed to find the gear they needed despite a lackadaisical, tired effort.