Orlando, Florida – The Orlando Magic made the Cleveland Cavaliers’ playoff hopes disappear Tuesday night.
Given what was at stake, with so few games left in the regular season, and clinging to hope of a late-season miracle to reach the top six, Cleveland suffered their most disappointing loss of the season to the struggling Magic, 120-115. Orlando entered the night after losing six straight games. Cleveland’s championship role was closed after Toronto’s victory over Atlanta.
“There is no omission in this league,” Cavs coach GB Bickerstaff said after the loss. “It’s every night, the stakes are at stake and the bottom line we ask of our men is to work on the man in front of them. That night over and over again they labored us. They outdid us. Give them credit. But it is frustrating that this was the effort we put in tonight.”
The Cavs got off to the start of the game, outsmarting the Magic, 14-3, in the opening minutes. But they can’t stand it.
In a game that saw 13 lead changes and six headshots, Orlando led with five players entering the fourth quarter. This feature pushed it to a game high of 10 with less than seven minutes remaining. After the Cavs came back, the lead increased to 10 again within four minutes. But Cleveland made a final push, led by All-Star goalkeeper Darius Garland.
The captain, who spoke of raising his game at this time of year, lit an 11-4 run. Lauri Markkanen had an open 3 pointer above the break that would have hooked the game about 48 seconds ago. Markkanen only missed, and Ignas Prazdekis, playing in place of injured Franz Wagner, who left the game after just nine minutes, gave Orlando a five-point lead.
Garland scored or assisted in Cleveland’s first six shots and nine of its first 10 in the fourth quarter. He netted 22 of 29 points in the fourth, trying to save Cleveland from a crushing loss.
Instead, Magic took the win on the free throw line, recording three of four in the last 10 seconds.
“This magic team, they never quit,” Bickerstaff said. “You watch the movie on them, no matter the circumstances, they’re racing their tails and playing the game together regardless of the outcome. So we knew they were going to shoot them. How we handled it, what sustained us, how we did what we were doing to be successful, wasn’t there.” It’s something we have to clearly learn. We still hope to flip a switch. But every time we try to flip a switch, it bites us in the ass.”
Garland finished the game with a total of 27 points, of which 13 were fourth. He added 10 assists and six rebounds. Markkanen added 25, and went 6 of 12 out of a 3-point range. Kevin Love scored 17 points and 13 rebounds. Moses Brown’s center also scored two doubles, his third in his last four matches. Brown has 10 points and 12 boards.
The Magic, who had failed to reach the 90-point mark in the previous two games, tore through Cleveland’s weak defense throughout. They fired 50.5% from the field and 45.7% from behind the arc, recording 16 3s.
“It wasn’t us. We can’t wait until the fourth quarter to try to come back or whatever,” Markkanen said. I felt the last five minutes were the force we played in defence, as you have to be for the whole 48 minutes. Obviously a disappointing loss. More importantly, because we didn’t play to our standards that we have in defense and attack. Obviously it was a big match for us.
“You can say in the locker room that everyone feels the same, everyone knows we should have won the game and we have a lot more to play than they have so far.”
Orlando quarterback Mo Bamba, who started with a 5-of-5 from deep, had the team’s highest at 21 points. Brazdeikis finished with a score of 20. In total, eight players reached a double digit, including five members of the Orlando bench. Magic Reserves outperformed Cleveland, 66-37.
The Cavs, losers on seven of the last nine, have been at least locked in the playing cycle for weeks – a battle of the numbers 7-10 starting April 12. But Tuesday’s baffling loss, combined with the end of the season stagnated, confirming that this was their only path to the playoffs.
“There are 82 games in the season and it will happen,” Bickerstaff said when asked about his level of anxiety. “We picked the wrong time for this to happen.”
With his first basket he made Tuesday night — a 14-foot jump — Larry passed Larry Nance Sr. to single-handedly take the ninth spot on the scorers list in Cleveland.
The Cavs will be taking a few days off in Orlando before heading to Brooklyn for the final road game of the season against the Nets on Friday night. Tipoff is set at 7:30 p.m.
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