Steve Clifford helping Magic turn their defensive vision into reality

Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

TORONTO -- When Steve Clifford met with his new bosses in Orlando last May, they shared with their coach a vision for their team. The Magic would use their length and their athleticism. They would defend. They'd give teams headaches on both ends of the floor.

"That's what this league is all about," Clifford remembered thinking.

Tuesday night in Toronto, the Magic will try to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series because they've realized a lot of their front office's thinking. With Clifford, one of the top defensive coaches in the NBA, the Magic always have a chance.

"Give him credit. He just has a system, first of all, that works," Orlando guard Evan Fournier said.

"He's very good at explaining to you everything so you really know what to do. And if you (mess) up? You know you're wrong. There is no gray area. There's no place for interpretation. You know what you have to do."

As the Magic forged their identity this season, Clifford met with his team and showed the players a series of defensive statistics.


"(It was him) showing us proof that, in the past, when his teams defended, they had a chance," All-Star center Nikola Vucevic said. "We just bought into it. We understood that it's the only way we could do it."

The numbers are there. Hold an opponent to 100 points or fewer this season, you're probably going to win. Orlando went 22-4 in the 26 regular-season contests in which it did that.

While the Magic started winning, Clifford's thumbprint on the team's defense was easy to see. The Magic pack their players in the paint -- sometimes all five when an opponent decides to drive to the rim. From there, they react to the play, using speed and length to close out on shooters or to challenge the drive at the basket.

And after a few months this season, it started to work.


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