Magic coach Steve Clifford, an old-school, no-nonsense, no-excuse, kind of guy is high on the Raptors point guards.
In the stunning aftermath of Saturday’s Game 1, the pointed criticism in many circles centred around Kyle Lowry, Toronto’s all-star point guard who missed all seven of his shots from the field, which included an 0-fer from three-point distance.
Lowry didn’t cost the home side its 104-101 setback, but the zero attached to field goals, free throws and points became a talking point.
Clearly, Clifford isn’t taking much, if any, stock in the numbers.
What Clifford saw, when reviewing the game film of Orlando’s win, was a player in Lowry who had an impact on both ends of the floor.
Had it not been for Lowry’s presence, it’s doubtful Pascal Siakam, whose play was somehow overlooked in Toronto’s defence, would not have attempted a game-high 24 shots.
Siakam didn’t make any trips to the line, a zero stat line lost in the negativity surrounding Lowry, and nor did Siakam make any shots from distance on four attempts.
The end result was a 24-point game off 24 shots, not exactly the definition of efficiency.
“If you have time to study the game, he (Lowry) played a terrific game, not good, he was terrific,’’ began Clifford Monday as the Magic huddled at the Raptors’ old practice court located inside Scotiabank Arena. “His playmaking. He made, whatever it is, eight assists, he was a plus-11 or 12 whenever he was on the court. He put a ton of pressure.
“He’s the one who starts their transition, all those advanced baskets up the court to Siakam. That’s all him. And he took seven shots. He didn’t make them. He’ll make them. He’s one of the best competitors in our league. He played really well. He didn’t make any shots, but when you see it again and have the time to sit and watch he played a very, very good game. If I was him and if he can play that game every playoff game and make three of those he’s great. His impact on the game was terrific for them. He’s a problem on both ends of the floor.”
There’s no denying the hill the Magic must climb to advance past the Raptors, a team that ended the regular season with the NBA’s second-best record behind Milwaukee.
Orlando was held to 40% shooting, but it did limit its turnovers to 11 and the Magic did outbound the Raptors 48-45, which included a 10-6 edge on the offensive glass.
It was an offensive rebound late that led to D.J. Augustin’s straight-line drive.
Orlando shot the ball better from distance than the Raptors, but then again, as Clifford also pointed out Monday, a late three-ball by Marc Gasol in the corner pocket rimmed out.
The game winner came off a three-pointer heaved by Augustin.
The Raptors missed 24 shots from the field, going 9-of-14 from the line and were outscored by five in second-chance points.
Tuesday’s Game 2 crowd will be more engaged, the intensity increased and the Raptors’ sense of desperation more pronounced, factors Clifford realizes his young team must embrace before the best-of-seven series shifts to Orlando.
Even if many in the media projected a series win by the Raptors, no one in their right mind thought it would be easy.
Orlando, which is long and athletic, takes its cue from Clifford, who wants his team to play as a unit, whether that means playing on a string defensively or sharing the ball on offence.
In addition, people fail to realize the fine line that separates many teams in the NBA, especially when the post-season rolls around.
Short of a key injury, and Dwane Casey can attest to that with news Pistons star Blake Griffin won’t be available against the Bucks, a one or two possession game can go either way.
Clifford pointed to the Gasol miss in Game 1.
“Marc Gasol is a terrific player,’’ added Clifford. “He’s made big play after big play throughout his career in the playoffs. It was like three-quarters of the way down and then D.J. makes his. It’s such a fine line between winning and losing.’’
Orlando made its point in Game 1 and the Magic is preparing for the Raptors’ counter point.
“We’re going to get their best is what I’m saying,’’ said Clifford.
He’s right, for obvious reasons because Lowry isn’t going to miss every shot he takes.
The all-star did produce a game-high eight assists.
Lowry turned the ball over twice, while recording seven boards, a number exceeded on the Raptors by Siakam (9) and Serge Ibaka (8).
This series is far from over.
Clifford has ties with Brendan Malone, a great man who coached the expansion Raptors in 1995 and later the Magic, and the Van Gundy Brothers.
“Jeff (Van Gundy) used to say this all the time,’’ said Clifford when discussing adjustments in the post-season. “And it’s so true. People love to talk about adjustments. And the biggest adjustment in most playoff series is some guy goes 2-for-8 and then 5-for-8. You want to do things better on both ends of the floor, but at the end of the day it’s (talk of adjustments) vastly overplayed.”
A point well taken.
ROSS STAYS FOCUSED
Back in the post-season for the first time since his days in Toronto, back practising on a familiar court, Terrence Ross has no time to look back.
It’s all business for Ross, the one-time Raptor, and no there’s no time for reflection.
“Not really,’’ began Ross when asked if he flashed back to his time as a Raptor. “I’ve been here (Toronto) a few times before. You know you’re not going to be with one team forever.”
Ross had a tough time getting his offence rolling in Game 1, missing nine shots on 11 attempts, but he did make all five of his free throws and his game-high plus-13 stood out.
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