The blink of an eye: Magic frustrated after another lead dwindles away
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There's a new coach in charge, but the Orlando Magic can't seem to shake their old habit of letting wins get away from them.
On Sunday night, the Chicago Bulls pulled off a near duplication of what the Washington Wizards were able to accomplish at the Magic's expense two months earlier. A veteran team that has been playoff-tested came through in the final minute against a less experienced group of players with a less experienced coach. In the case of James Borrego, this was only his second game since being promoted to replace the fired Jacque Vaughn.
"You're not going to get a much better chance than we had tonight," center Nikola Vucevic said after the Magic squandered a shot to go 2-0 under Borrego as the Bulls rallied for a 98-97 victory.
"It was our game to win," added Tobias Harris, whose failed tip-in attempt after Vucevic missed a jump hook served as the Magic's last gasp. "We gave it away."
After trailing 32-16 through one quarter, the Magic showed a resolve on defense for the second game in a row that was sorely lacking toward the end of Vaughn's tenure. Elfrid Payton, not known for his prowess at crashing the boards, came up with a team-high nine rebounds along with two of the Magic's nine steals. And backup center Dewayne Dedmon, whose effort has never wavered although his minutes have, was a bull in a china shop against Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah.
Noah's basket with 4:30 remaining gave the Bulls a 91-88 lead, but it was all Magic for almost the next four minutes. The crowd was chanting "D-fense" without the slightest hint of irony as a six-point lead over a team wrapping up a six-game road trip seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
But as the game concluded, the lead and the win were indeed gone.
"It's real tough," said Dedmon, whose eight points helped the Magic's bench outscore the Bulls' non-starters 28-10. "We were fighting the whole game, and we were up. But a couple of mental mistakes, and then there it is."
Where it began to unravel was when a bad pass by Victor Oladipo was stolen in the open court by Jimmy Butler. In his haste to prevent a breakaway layup, Harris grabbed Butler without realizing he had committed a clear path foul. Not only did Butler hit both free throws to make it a 97-93 game with 32.6 seconds to go, but the Bulls also retained possession of the ball.
"It was a stupid play on my part," Harris said.
Things went from bad to worse as Butler found a wide-open Derrick Rose, who was laboring through a 3-for-12 shooting performance up to that point. Rose didn't waste this opportunity from 3-point range, however, and the Magic's lead was down to one.
Borrego then inserted Evan Fournier and Channing Frye into the game for offensive purposes, only to see Fournier get double-teamed by Rose and Noah near the halfcourt line and then whistled for an over-and-back violation.
When the Bulls got the ball back, Rose got free and fired up a floating jump shot. It didn't go down, but Gasol was there to slam it through with authority -- much to the delight of the sizeable contingent of Bulls fans in attendance.
Vucevic, who had his way offensively with Gasol in a win by the Magic last month in Chicago, couldn't connect on a shot in the closing seconds that he said was a play designed to have him look for Harris cutting or Frye spotting up behind the 3-point arc.
"I think maybe I could have gotten a better shot," said Vucevic, who made only five of 14 shots all night.
And the incredulous look on Harris' face when his tip failed to go in said it all.
"This one really hurts," Oladipo said. "But we've got to figure out a way to win. We've been in a ton of situations like this, so we needed to come out with that one. We can't feel sorry for ourselves."
Waiting for them Monday night will be none other than the Wizards, who outscored the Magic 7-0 in the final minute of their last meeting to eke out a 91-89 win.
"We've got to take all this disappointment and turn it into juice and turn it into trying to get back at people," Oladipo said.