ORLANDO — The Magic’s slogan for its 2019 playoff run has been ‘Blue and White Ignite.’
Four games into this first-round series, it just may have become ‘Blue and White Good Night.’
The Raptors are now in a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 5 back home in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena.
The Magic stole one in Toronto and had a great shot at Game 3 here in Orlando, but came up short.
Game 4 here on Sunday night was one of those games where the Magic was not a threat past the first five minutes of the game. Orlando came out hard, as one would expect of a team down 2-1. But once reeled it was back in, it never seriously threatened again.
Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and perhaps the first real bench contribution of the series sealed the Magic fate in this 107-85 final.
If the Magic has another bullet in the chamber, it’s frankly going to come as a surprise.
Kyle Lowry promised there would be no let-up from his locker room.
“We’re just continuing to stay the course, watching a lot of film and we’re discussing things we can do to help each other on the floor and help the team get better,” Lowry said. “We’re still just getting better, man. Growing as a team, growing as a group. I think our communication is getting a lot better. This time that we have to study one team and not worry about 29 other teams and who we got next has been good for us, to lock in on one team.”
How good has the Raptors defence been these past three games?
For the past two, Magic coach Steve Clifford has been harping on his team’s need to protect the ball. During at least three different availabilities over the past week, he has pointed out how Toronto was the best team in the NBA converting turnovers into points. It was his primary focus after Game 2 and again after Game 3, but the Raptors turned the Magic over 16 times. In Game 2 it was 17 turnovers and then in Game 4s another 17.
The Magic knows, and has been told repeatedly exactly what needs to change in its game but is incapable of doing it. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise considering the Raptors boast two former defensive player of the year award winners in Leonard and Marc Gasol, plus lock-down defenders in Lowry and Danny Green, not to mention a vastly underrated defender in Siakam.
That’s the entire Raptors’ starting five. And every one of them is a ball hawk, swiping at opponents’ dribbles every opportunity that arises.
Toronto has played some excellent defensive quarters over the course of the season and even a few halves, but to put back-to-back-to-back full-game defensive gems together at a time when they need them the most is the kind of run that can put a team on a path that becomes tough to be knocked from.
“Yeah, we’ve been pretty locked-in now on the defensive end,” Fred VanVleet said on Sunday. “They’ve guarded us pretty well, too. Give them credit for that. Throughout the season, with ups and downs and trying to get up for games and stay motivated, we’ve had a lot of lapses and injuries, different lineup changes. But I think we’ve been playing consistent basketball for a little bit. Being able to stay locked-in, staying engaged, staying in tune defensively has helped us have success for sure.”
And it’s what can take this team further than it has ever gone on an NBA playoff run if it can sustain it.
YUP, HE’S BACK
Add quick recovery artist to the list of impressive traits that belong to Leonard.
A game after he was not his full Leonard-self and was getting to the rim but was unable to finish through contact there because his strength had been sapped by a virus that left him unable to practise for two days, Kawhi was back in full force on Sunday.
This time, when Leonard got to the rim, he finished, whether it was Nikola Vucevic there trying to knock him off-stride or Aaron Gordon or any other player in white.
Limited to 16 points in Game 3 on 18 shots, Leonard had 30 on 17 by the end of the third quarter on Sunday night.
He is still not getting to the line like a man who spends as much time aggressively driving the offence as he does, but the feeling within the Raptors locker room is that will come with time.
Certainly whining about the calls publicly does nothing but get an individual fined by the league so, for now, it’s put your head down and keep attacking in the hope that the whistle will change.
THE JOB ON VUCEVIC AND T-ROSS
Early on in Game 4, it looked like Vucevic had finally figured out how to get his game going with Gasol in his face. Vucevic had eight points in the first quarter, by far his best of the series, but couldn’t follow that up with much of anything afterwards. He finished with just 11 as Gasol once again put the clamps down on him and refused to give him anything easy.
Terrence Ross was a defensive assignment shared by a handful of Raptors and the one-time Toronto player never got it going in Game 4. He finished with just five points and was a game-worst minus-25.
This is just the second time in team history that the Raptors have won three playoff games in succession. The only other time came two seasons ago when they won the final three of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Milwaukee, which they won in six … The Raptors bench hasn’t been a strength in this series to date but it was on Sunday, contributing 39 points between its first three subs in Norm Powell, Serge Ibaka and VanVleet.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019