SAN FRANCISCO – Tormented so many times through the years while playing at noisy Oracle Arena in nearby Oakland and against the likes of stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, the Orlando Magic hoped for a fresh start and some newfound success on Saturday at the snazzy Chase Center against a relative unknown cast of Golden State Warriors.
Instead, all the Magic got was more misery and one of their most puzzling and disappointing defeats of the season.
Orlando opened Saturday’s game with the first 13 points, and it made a spirited fourth-quarter run to take a couple of brief one-point leads. In between, however, there was nothing but frustration, head-scratching decisions and an overall lack of aggression on either end of the floor. When the Magic ultimately let down their guards again and allowed the Warriors to rip off 14 straight points during one critical stretch late in the night, they were left with a disheartening 109-95 defeat at the hands of a Golden State squad that came in having lost 10 straight games.
“We played soft, not (with) enough energy and we’ve just got to play better from the starting lineup,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who missed six of 10 shots and was among a group of front-line players who were dominated by double-digit ratios over the course of the game. “Our bench production was really good. But I think, myself included and a couple of other guys, our starting lineup has got to step up if we want to do anything.’’
Added center Nikola Vucevic, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds but missed 13 of his 19 shots: “We started the game great, 13-0, and since then it was nothing. Defensively, we didn’t have much, and offensively we didn’t have anything, really. Not much to say, honestly, because we didn’t do anything really that we needed to do to win tonight. It’s a tough one.’’
Orlando (20-23) came into Saturday an impressive 15-5 against teams with losing records, but it got outplayed on both ends of the floor by a 10-34 Warriors team missing arguably four of the franchise’s best players. Prior to Saturday, Golden State hadn’t won since Dec. 27 and came in with the longest losing streak in the NBA.
However, D’Angelo Russell (26 points, 12 assists and four 3-pointers), Jordan Poole (21 points and four 3-pointers), Eric Paschall (20 points, nine rebounds and two 3-pointers) and the Warriors (45.7 percent and 12 threes) had little problem dispatching the sputtering Magic on this night. Coupled with a home loss to the Atlanta Hawks in recent weeks, Saturday’s defeat was Orlando’s most confounding based on the lack of fire the squad seemed to possess throughout.
Magic head coach Steve Clifford did not take questions after the game, but he still had plenty to say about his team’s poor effort on Saturday.
“The way this league works is the people most responsible for how hard (a team plays) and how prepared a team is every night is the head coach and the best players – that’s what I just told the team,’’ Clifford said. “So, I did a bad job, our best players did a bad job and that’s the first point.
“The second point, which I also just told them, we’ve played hard and it’s been a strength of our group all year with the injuries and everything else,’’ Clifford continued. “It also goes to show that one of the steps we have to take is, we have to have expectations and understand what’s ahead – that’s what the league is all about. We’re in a brutal stretch here with nine (games) in 15 nights, and frankly, the Charlotte game (on Monday) is going to be difficult because of the travel and the schedule, which to me is ridiculous. Then, we go home for OKC, Boston, the Clippers and Miami on a back-to-back. A mature player and mature team understands that. Whether we would have won tonight or not, you sure as hell don’t come out with an effort like that.’’
The effort, or lack thereof, that most infuriated Clifford was how Orlando’s veteran-laden starting five was outplayed. Markelle Fultz, Orlando’s one steady source of offense all game with his 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, was a minus-20 in his 34 minutes on the floor. Gordon (minus-18 in 35 minutes) and Vucevic (minus-18 in 33 minutes) didn’t fare much better, while Evan Fournier (minus-16 in 32 minutes) mostly struggled while playing with an illness and a bruised right quad.
“Tonight, it’s obvious what didn’t work, and we all know it,’’ Vucevic said. “We all have to look at ourselves and be better. It was so obvious what happened out there, and we just have to be better and that’s it.’’
The Magic looked as if they might salvage the night when they took a 93-92 lead on a Fultz layup. However, they yielded the game’s next 14 points to pave the way for another loss to the Warriors in the Bay Area.
“It hurts bad because we didn’t come all the way prepared,’’ said Fultz, who had six rebounds, four assists and a steal to go with his team-high 23 points. “I think it hurt us. They’re a good team, an NBA team and they just hit us harder than we hit them. They wanted it a little bit more than we wanted it, so it hurts when that’s the way you lose – when somebody wanted it more than you – but it’s something you’ve got to learn from. We’ve all got to learn from it as a group and get ready for the next one.’’
Saturday’s game was Orlando’s first at the dazzling, new Chase Center, an 18,064-seat arena in the Mission Bay neighborhood of downtown San Francisco. The Warriors are back in San Francisco, where they played for nine seasons after moving from Philadelphia in 1962.
The Magic certainly weren’t disappointed to see the Warriors move across the bay and out of Oakland’s Oracle Arena, where they lost on their final six trips there. However, moving from Oakland to downtown San Francisco did little to help the Magic’s struggles in Northern California. They lost to Golden State in the Bay Area for a seventh straight time – a skid that dates back to December of 2012. On this night, the only streak that ended was the Warriors’ 10-game skid – the franchise’s longest since 2002.
The Warriors that the Magic saw on Saturday are hardly the ones that dominated the NBA in recent years while they won three titles in a four-year stretch. Thompson (left knee surgery) has yet to play this season, while Curry (broken left hand) missed his 40th consecutive game on Saturday. Championship fixtures Green (sprained left index finger) and Kevon Looney (abdominal soreness) were also out injured on Saturday and the Warriors had just nine healthy players dressed for the game.
That just might have had something to do with Orlando’s waning intensity and focus, especially after it opened the game with a 13-0 surge.
Saturday’s game was the fifth of a six-game, 12-day trip – the Magic’s longest of the season. Orlando lost a heartbreaker in Phoenix in the opener, but it rallied for big wins against Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Magic fell a night later to the L.A. Clippers, but they had an off day on Friday to rest up for Saturday’s first game at the Chase Center. They will end the trip on Monday in Charlotte.
Down a point at the half, Orlando saw things get ugly right away when it missed its first six shots of the third period. The Magic actually had struggles from start to finish in the period as Poole buried a 30-footer just before the quarter-ending horn to give the Warriors an 82-71 edge at the end of three periods.
In the third, the Magic made just six of 21 shots. Also, the Magic did not score a point in the paint in the period, missing all six shots from in the lane.
Being the veteran captain that he is, Vucevic took much of the blame for the loss upon himself.
“I obviously didn’t have a good game and it was a poor performance by me,’’ said Vucevic, who was angry at himself for not attacking more against the defense of Willie Cauley-Stein. “I should have done better and been more aggressive offensively. In the post, I for some reason – I don’t know why – I settled a lot with tough shots, and I didn’t try to get to the rim. I just wasn’t good tonight at all.’’
The Magic couldn’t have possibly gotten off to a better start in the first four-plus minutes, racing to a 13-0 lead on a Warriors team that missed its first seven shots. However, Orlando’s strong start didn’t hold up and it trailed 28-25 at the end of the first quarter (28-25) and in a puzzling 53-52 deficit by halftime.
The Magic had few answers defensively in the early going. After it missed its first seven shots, Golden State made eight of its next 12 tries – five of which came from 3-point range. After they fell behind 13-0, the Warriors outscored the Magic 43-27 to build their biggest lead of the first half at five points.
Orlando’s deficit could have been much worse had Fultz not had it going in the first half while relentlessly attacking the rim. He made five of his first seven shots – capped by a thunderous dunk over Warriors’ center Omari Spellman with 4.7 seconds remaining in the first half.
Fultz said his team has to learn from Saturday’s mistakes and be better going forward.
“We just didn’t get stops, we missed low man multiple times and they got a couple of offensive rebounds to get second-chance points,’’ Fultz said. “We just weren’t all on the same page and right now is a time where we’ve got to figure out what’s going on and we’ve got to talk, address the issues and move forward. That’s the only way we’re going to get better. It’s among us and it’s all on us.’’
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