ORLANDO, Fla. — Less than a minute into the third quarter Sunday night, the Orlando Magic found themselves down 21 points to the Toronto Raptors.
But with less than nine seconds remaining, they were in a position to perhaps go into overtime for the second time this weekend and the eighth time this season.
The Magic did a lot of things right over the final 24 minutes — shooting 67 percent from the floor, holding the Raptors to 41 points, getting lifts from Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo as well as an unexpected boost from Dewayne Dedmon in only his eighth game with them. But the inability of Maurice Harkless to inbound the ball with the Magic trailing by three ending up being their undoing as the Raptors held on for a 98-93 victory.
Harkless claimed he was trying to get the attention of referee Scott Foster and call a timeout before being whistled for a five-second violation.
"I guess he just didn’t acknowledge me," he said. "He said he didn’t hear me, but I called to him a couple times."
"I felt like Mo called timeout, but I guess the ref was on a different count," said Oladipo, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in his second game after losing his starting job to Nelson.
In coach Jacque Vaughn’s opinion, one play didn’t make the difference in the Magic’s 53rd loss of the season. Harkless’ violation was their 19th turnover of the game, with five of those coming during a nine-minute stretch of the first half where they didn’t make a field goal.
"It was just good defense by Toronto denying the basketball in," Vaughn said of the play with the Raptors clinging to a 96-93 lead. "We’ll continue to get better at it. The good thing is we’ll continue to be in those situations, and we’ll get better at accomplishing it."
There were other contributing factors to the outcome. After a 35-14 advantage in free-throw attempts Friday night in an overtime victory over Charlotte, the Magic got to the line only 14 times compared to 27 for the Raptors. And for the third game in a row, Arron Afflalo went 3 of 9 from the floor.
But it was Afflalo who pulled the Magic to within three with a 3-pointer in the final minute and who Harkless was trying to find on the play drawn up by Vaughn.
"We were looking for Arron," said Harkless, who finished with 14 points in a team-high 37 minutes. "He just wasn’t open, and nobody else was open."
When asked about the disparity in foul shots, Vaughn replied, "I’m just going to say the referees were great throughout the game. I’m going to leave it at that."
In addition to Foster not granting Harkless a timeout, Kevin Scott whistled Oladipo for the first technical foul of the rookie’s NBA career late in the third quarter. Oladipo believed he should have gone to the line after driving the lane and drawing contact from Landry Fields, but no personal foul was called.
"I just felt like I got fouled," he said. "That was my mistake of overreacting and not keeping my emotions in. I felt like he missed the call, but that’s a part of basketball."
Added Vaughn: "He’ll grow. He’ll continue to get fouled, and a great lesson for him is how you react to it, how you respond to it. We want him to continue to go to the bucket and get contact."
It wasn’t unusual to see Oladipo, Harkless, Tobias Harris and E’Twaun Moore on the floor at the beginning of the quarter when the Magic went on a 12-3 run to tie the game. What was strange was having Dedmon being the center in that group rather than Nikola Vucevic, who had 18 points by halftime, or Kyle O’Quinn.
"When your number’s called, you’ve just got to be ready, no matter what," said Dedmon, who played a total of only 50 minutes in his previous seven games and did not get in at all against the Bobcats.
Had the Magic been ready in the first half, the game could well have gone their way.
"We knew one thing going into the second half, and that’s we had done it before," Oladipo said. "So we had all the confidence in the world that we could come back and cut into the lead and make it a ballgame."