The Orlando Magic found their defense and got a big and loud performance from C.J. Watson to pull away from the Toronto Raptors for a needed win.
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C.J. Watson is not the one to do anything boastful on the basketball court. In fact, his game oftentimes is a bit too quiet like his demeanor off the court. Watson is the definition of “veteran presence” for that reason. What he does on the court is often subtle.
There was nothing subtle about the biggest play Watson made in an 18-point night. Nothing subtle at all.
With the Raptors trailing by four points following three missed free throws from the Magic, the game was teetering for the struggling Magic at home. Watson though knew exactly what Kyle Lowry was about to do.
Having played against each other in workouts this summer in Las Vegas, Watson knew how to defend Lowry. He poked the ball away from him and ignited a fast break that gave the Magic a six-point lead. That was about all the cushion the suddenly resurgent Magic defense needed for a 102-94 victory at the Amway Center on Friday.
“I know him a little,” Watson said of his relationship with Lowry. “We work out in the summer time together so I have some familiarity with him. It’s pretty easy to guard him. When I hit the ball, I knew he was pissed when I did it. It was a good feeling.”
That is not the typical modesty from Watson. But Watson, and the Magic, finally had something to brag about.
They held the high-powered Raptors’ offense to just 39.1 percent shooting and kept Kyle Lowry to 2-for-11 shooting from beyond the arc and 5-for-20 overall. The Magic’s offense was far from spectacular, but the team got stops and made enough offensive plays to win the game.
The Magic set the tone for their victory with a 12-point third quarter where Nikola Vucevic‘s 14 points outscored the Raptors’ entire team.
That is closer to the vision of what this Magic team wanted to be from the beginning of the season. And it earned Orlando one of its finer all-around wins in some time.
C.J. Watson has been a flash point for Orlando Magic fans for some time now. Without doubt, his play has frustrated as much as any other as he has not been able to produce much on the offensive end. Yet, his defense remains key for what he can do and coach Frank Vogel trusts him. After Friday’s game, Vogel said Watson was one of the Magic’s best players for the last several weeks.
That can be hard to justify with his poor scoring numbers. He is definitely a subtle player, doing more with positioning rather than steals or anything like that. Friday was a chance for him to show exactly what kind of impact he can make.
In addition to his typically solid defense, Watson scored 18 points, making all seven of his free throws and missing just one of his six shots. This was Watson tearing up defenses and taking what was given him. These kind of offensive performances will not be every game, but Watson finally shouted his value.
Nikola Vucevic at times has proven to be an offensive rock for the Orlando Magic. And without his offensive contributions in the third quarter, where he scored 14 of his 18 points, the Magic might not have retaken the lead. He was the team’s entire offense in that frame.
In that quarter too, Vucevic played some stellar defense protecting the rim. At one point, he again caught Kyle Lowry with a block on a driving layup. But Vucevic challenged a lot of shots.
That is not how things started. He struggled to corral Jonas Valanciunas for much of the first half, allowing Valanciunas to get himself going in the paint. The Magic had to double team him and that opened up Toronto’s shooters. Frank Vogel got into his team at halftime and things changed in the second half for Orlando and for Vucevic.
Serge Ibaka again got the Orlando Magic going at the start and carried out his momentum well throughout the rest of the game. Ibaka just remained solid throughout the game in scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. He was available, hitting 8 of his 12 shots and two of his three 3-pointers.
This is a much more solid and aggressive Ibaka. And it showed on the defensive end too. He blocked three shots, accounting for three of the Magic’s seven blocks on the evening. He was rotating well to the right spot to cover for teammates.
For the Magic, this is the active and engaged Ibaka they need. He may not make a direct impact with his offense or one-on-one play, but he is available as a trailer or popper on offense.
It is clear Evan Fournier is still looking to get his rhythm back after missing eight games with a heel injury. But it is slowly coming back. And he becomes a great attacker and driver on pick and rolls as that comfort returns.
Fournier scored 20 points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds for his first career double double. He was active around the basket and read his pick and rolls well. He did make only 5 of 12 shots. The shot is still a bit off. But he made eight of 10 free throws. That shows an aggressiveness to get to the basket.
And his chemistry with Nikola Vucevic in the pick and roll gave the Magic plenty of offensive options throughout the game.
This was not a good loss for the Toronto Raptors as they continue to reel of late. The Raptors fell out of third place in the Eastern Conference with the loss. And there are a lot of questions.
The Raptors poor performance is not about talent. They dropped 30 on the Magic in the second quarter and seemed set to begin running away with things. Or at least to have control throughout the game. But the Raptors could not crack the Magic defense in the third quarter or much of the second half.
Lowry struggled to shoot and the Raptors could not get Jonas Valanciunas going in the post. Credit the Magic defense for sure. But Toronto struggled to get their offense moving and Orlando dared someone other than Lowry to beat it.