Victor Oladipo's electric performance doesn't offset Magic's defensive breakdowns
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Victor Oladipo was virtually a one-man offense in the second half Wednesday night for the Orlando Magic.
But with no one playing defense for the most part in the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns, that was of no consolation to him or anyone else on a team that has now dropped four games in a row following a three-game winning streak.
"I was just trying to keep us in the game," Oladipo said after scoring 28 of his career-high 38 points in the final two quarters of a 105-100 loss. "We did a good job of clawing back. But we wouldn't have even been in that position if we would have came out stronger in the third quarter."
As was the case Friday night at Atlanta and Sunday night against Charlotte, the Magic were outscored by double figures in the 12 minutes following halftime. The Suns, who trailed by as many as 15 late in the second quarter, forced the Magic into three turnovers in less than a minute and hit 12 of their 20 shots on their way to finishing with a 34-17 advantage.
"We've got to find a way to come out better in the second half," said Oladipo, who almost became the first Magic player to reach the 40-point mark since Arron Afflalo had 43 last season in a double-overtime game at Philadelphia. "It's crazy because we fixed our problem in the first quarter, and now we've got to fix the same problem in the third quarter. We've got to put a whole game together in order to win games."
"We didn't attack their aggression with our own aggression," coach James Borrego said. "In the fourth quarter, we picked it up a little bit more and made a run. But we didn't see that for 48 minutes."
What the Magic didn't see for much of the third quarter was the presence of Dewayne Dedmon, who made his first start of the season at power forward in place of Channing Frye. The 7-footer was pulled after his third and fourth fouls in the opening 1:08, and neither Aaron Gordon nor Andrew Nicholson could pick up the slack for him on defense.
"Dedmon's foul trouble really hurt us there in the third quarter," Borrego said. "He's got to learn to play without fouling."
"He's our rim-protector," Oladipo said. "He does a great job of protecting our paint."
The Suns went from having only 14 points in the paint during the first half to 22 over the final two quarters. They also went 5 of 12 from 3-point range and were perfect from the free-throw line down the stretch.
"The problem with our team, and why we lost this game, is we put our offense before our defense in the second half," forward Tobias Harris said. "When you do that, you're not going to win games."
Harris took only two shots in 18 minutes after halftime. Nikola Vucevic wasn't much of a factor either, aside from his tip-in of an Oladipo miss that made it a 99-98 game with 31 seconds remaining.
Oladipo kicked it into high gear after the Magic were down by 11 early in the fourth quarter. He hit back-to-back 3s and added a breakaway dunk off a steal.
"We've got to play like that all the time, with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor," he said.
"We made a good effort," Harris said. "Victor really lifted us up and got us going. But it wasn't enough."
With Evan Fournier still sidelined by a sore right hip and with rookie Elfrid Payton being limited offensively, Oladipo has asserted himself more than usual. His 25 field-goal attempts were a season high, and he was visibly frustrated on at least two occasions when he thought he should have gone to the line after driving to the basket.
"I just wanted to win," he said. "Thirty-eight and three (points), it's all the same. Winning and losing, that's what it's all about."
Unfortunately for the Magic, losing continues to be the more familiar subject.