The Boston Celtics are in a bit of a losing streak, though it’s more the losses’ method that’s bothersome: a blown comeback vs. the Pelicans last Tuesday, a woeful (albeit Kyrie-less) effort against the 76ers two days later. Hopefully, a Sunday matinee with the once-again woebegone Orlando Magic would get them back on track…
…NOPE. A evenly matched first half gave way to Magic dominance in Q3 that a strong final frame couldn’t overcome. What a mess.
THE GAME FLOW
You never know quite what iteration of the team you’ll face when matched up against the Magic. For the opening minutes of this contest, the Celtics got the “trying” version, sadly. In fairness, the Cs weren’t lackadaisical by any reasonable standard, but couldn’t quite match the energy the Magic mustered early on. Kyrie Irving did the most for Boston on both ends, scoring most of the points but also putting in defensive work, including a charge fearlessly taken against a fast-breaking Jonanthon Simmons. (He wasn’t doing much of that in Cleveland.)
Orlando’s effort didn’t sustain itself over the whole frame, though they didn’t roll over either, using their strong frontcourt of Aaron Gordon and Bismack Biyombo to work the paint hard on both ends. Jaylen Brown stepped up to take some of the offensive burden from Kyrie, ending up with 8 points in the quarter, though Uncle Drew still accounted for 15 of the squad’s total 29. The Magic locked in and retook the lead behind Elfrid Payton’s uncharacteristically strong offense, but not for long: A last-second Terry Rozier steal turned transition layup put the Cs ahead 29-28 at the end of 12 minutes.
D.J. Augustin, who—to the surprise of many, I’d imagine—is somehow still in the league, took Payton’s place as point guard and infused Orlando with some energy in Q2. Shelvin Mack, the impossible-to-dislike Marreese Speights and infamous Serbian drug smuggler Mario Hezonja helped in this effort, and built another small lead over Boston. Jayson Tatum being stymied on both ends of the floor by two equally dubious foul calls didn’t help matters, nor did the Celtics’ underwhelming offense (aside from the aforementioned Brown/Irving backcourt).
The home team didn’t benefit at all from foul calls until more than halfway through the second quarter, nor did defense provide much assistance. Between that, Augustin and Evan “NEVER GOOGLE” Fournier* getting hot from deep, the Magic kept their lead alive during most of the frame. For a team with the 27th-place defense in the NBA, per Basketball Reference, they did a fair job forcing most of the Cs’ contributors into bad shots or turnovers, and Orlando shot a dramatic 56 percent. Through some lickety-split effort by Kyrie and Marcus Morris, the Cs pulled ahead by just one to lead at the half, 59-58.
Payton and Fournier stayed hot to start the new half, creating a new hole for the Celtics that only grew deeper as minutes passed. Offense that had at least remained apace with Orlando’s stagnated (except for Kyrie), and Boston’s defensive issues continued—over 8 minutes of Q3, Magic outscored the Celtics by a humiliating 25-8 margin (it would end up 32-12 for the whole frame). Players got fooled on switches, blew chances at deflections, couldn’t match opposing athleticism—you name it, the Celtics defense did it wrong. Turnovers were also rampant, with 7 of Boston’s 12 coming in this third quarter.
Daniel Theis showed the only real defensive muscle for the Cs by smacking two consecutive blocks on Payton, and by that point (2 minutes left in Q3) Orlando led by almost 20 anyway. Some miracles would be necessary for anything good to come after that nightmarish frame, with the visiting team leading Boston 90-71.
Consecutive stops (4 of them, to be exact) served the Celtics well at the start of the final quarter, though the offense didn’t benefit nearly as much as it should’ve: In just under 3 minutes of play, Boston only scored two field goals and remained in a 15-point hole. The home team was, to its credit, playing at full intensity on both ends by now, but at this point they’d need good luck as much as effort and execution.
Brad Stevens turned to a very small lineup of Rozier/Irving/Brown/Tatum/Morris for the stretch run, and it paid off. The Magic scored only 4 points in about 8 minutes of play, and Tatum, Brown and Kyrie finally closed the gap to something that could, in theory, be bridged—9 points with 3 minutes left in the game. But it just, wasn’t, enough; stop me if you’ve heard this one lately. After playing out the string with pro forma shots and free throws, Orlando served Boston its third consecutive loss, 103-95.
HOT ISH: Kyrie on both ends of the floor (his night ended with an extremely well rounded 40-7-5 line that included a block and only one turnover; Jaylen’s similarly strong effort.
NOT ISH: Defense overall, poor second-half offense; that abomination of a third quarter; Tatum looking uncharacteristically rookie-ish (though that’s defensible because he IS a rookie); Al struggling.
Jaylen looked so good in Q1, alongside Kyrie, as shown in this great transition play:
Also from Q1, this clip that showed how the squad should’ve played all game, but sadly didn’t:
*Please do not google that. I’m not responsible if you do.