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The Raptors Were Never Going To Be Able To Stop D.J. Augustin From Becoming A Postseason Hero

The Orlando Magic are an enigma. The designation has nothing to do with a complex scheme that coach Steve Clifford has put together, or an analytics heavy-approach to selecting undervalued free agents that other teams would ignore. No, the Magic are an enigma simply because it makes no sense how this collection of players that will inevitably appear in a future Let’s Remember Some Guys episode have a) made the playoffs as something other than an eighth seed and b) taken a game on the road against the Toronto fucking Raptors.

And yet it happened! The Magic defeated the Raptors in Toronto, 104-101, to take Game 1 of this seven-game playoff series. Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors in scoring with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and D.J. Augustin led the Magic with that same points total on 9-of-13 shooting. Much like how teams have a difficult time stopping the All-NBA talents of Leonard on defense, the Raptors—for some reason—were unable to find ways to stifle Augustin’s abilities until the second half. Before then, however, he seemed to read every defense Toronto threw at him like a maze on the back of a restaurant’s children menu. He knew exactly where to go and how to get by the defenders in his way. If that didn’t work, he’d find an open teammate to take a shot, or he’d hand it off to another ball-handler to set up another play which would end in a three.

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Of all of the shots he took in the first half, only one of them was truly indicative of a potentially bonkers night—the one he took under-five in the first quarter with the shot clock winding down over tough defense. Otherwise, there were no Steph Curry launches from half court, and there were no bat-outta-hell drives to the hoop that scare big men out of the way, like the ones Russell Westbrook is known for. Instead, the rest of his shots were methodical and fundamentally sound. He was in the right place at the right time when he needed to be, and he always knew when to call his own number. The results from that consistency showed up on the scoreboard.

But part of what also helped Augustin and the rest of the Magic along was that the Raptors couldn’t really figure out how to approach Orlando’s style of play until the third quarter began. Simply put, they couldn’t keep up on either side of the floor. On defense, this was shown in the form passes that weren’t even that lazy getting intercepted by a racing defender. On offense, slow close-outs on speedy shooters showed just how lost the Raptors were. Meanwhile, Orlando knew exactly how to take on Toronto, and that discrepancy led to the 15-point run the Magic had to end the first half (it also carried over into Orlando shooting 48.3 percent from behind the arc).

There’s also an argument that some form of Game 1 jitters maybe got to the Raptors. It’s often difficult to ignore the home environment when you’re the home team, and that environment often includes nerves based on years of disappointment—Toronto is now 2-14 all-time in Game 1's. Sure, the Raptors have a new superstar, and plenty of other new faces, but if fans do nothing but emit nervous energy, it’ll eventually catch on to those players at home, regardless of how long they’ve been on the team. Don’t believe me? Just look at the similarities between losses: Kyle Lowry was abysmal (0 points on 0-for-7 shooting), the “other star” wasn’t good enough, and the defense fall apart when it mattered most.

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Still, a lot of the credit needs to go to Augustin and the Magic. They had no control of those previously-mentioned jitters, but their style of play on both ends of the floor suffocated the Raptors between the weight of a city’s nerves and a team that wanted to trample them to death. Mistakes were bound to happen eventually, they just happened at the worst possible time. Someone like Augustin might not have been actively aware of this phenomenon, but he certainly played well enough to exploit it and ensured that Toronto never had the chance to stop him—at least for this game.

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