Well, this should be fun. The Orlando Magic are godawful and the Boston Celtics have massacred them in every previous meeting this season, so our fellas can easily get themselves a W and remain locked into the 2-seed, right?
OK, it wasn’t fun. But wins are good, especially for a shorthanded team whose recent injury misfortunes might have them doubting their abilities to regroup in the absence of Kyrie Irving and ultimate glue guy/combat muscleman Marcus Smart. Boston led from early in the first quarter and never let go, bringing home a 92-83 win.
THE GAME FLOW
The well-documented injuries the Celtics are currently dealing with allowed Brad Stevens to start the game with a shooting-heavy lineup: Rozier and Jayson Tatum as the backcourt battery, plus Mook Morris and Horford at the forward positions. (Baynes at center is the obvious exception to that, but hey, you can’t win ’em all.)
Though Rozier put in plenty of work during the opening quarter, Horford emerged quickly as the game’s dominant presence within the same period, rebounding on both ends of the floor, hustling successfully for loose balls and tricking defenses with his mobility and passes. Morris shouldered the rest of the early offensive burden, continuing his run of consistently strong play—a welcome improvement from his early-season inconsistencies. For the Magic, not much was working aside from their bizarre backcourt: the underrated Jonathon Simmons and the inexplicable D.J. Augustin, and the Celtics got ahead of them 25-16 for the game’s first completed 12 minutes.
Shane Larkin, who’d put in productive minutes anchoring the bench in Q1 alongside Greg Monroe, kept it up as the second quarter progressed, becoming the first Celtics scorer to hit double figures. But he also showed his defensive acumen and functioned as a real anchor for the second unit, a skill that’s easy to take for granted. In fact, the team defense is the main element that kept the Boston double-digit lead going through the remainder of the first half, because our heroes weren’t exactly shooting with sterling accuracy (just 35 percent). But the Boston advantage held, with stifling D keeping Orlando to their lowest total score for a half this season, down 48-31.
The Magic, bad as they may be, were trying during the first half of this game. Well, at least Simmons was, along with the young guys Mario Hezonja and Jonathan Isaac. Meanwhile, the team’s ostensible star, Nikola “Vucci Mane” Vucevic, will usually phone in a double-double but couldn’t shoot tonight. With the writing on the wall, though, the Tank Division emerged fairly early in the second half. You could tell: Obviously bad shots were being taken by players who knew enough not to take them, like Augustin and Vooch, with a full green light from their beleaguered head coach Frank Vogel. Guys who started their seasons in the G-League like Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch saw the floor. (I swear, those are the real names of real people.)
Not aiming for a repeat of recent games where they’ve taken their feet off the gas and lost control of games, the Celtics didn’t pack it in during Q3 despite the Magic were bringing Panzers to bear. Stevens trusted Rozier, Horford and especially Monroe to carry the offense during much of this final half, and they did just that. MOOSE FROM GREG got hacked a bit but made the most of it, hitting 5 of 8 free-throw attempts, and beyond that Orlando couldn’t contain him much. Drives, post spin moves, the occasional hook—regardless of what it was, it usually worked for Moose. The Cs kept pushing through and extended their lead to 75-52 with one quarter left.
Jonathan Isaac had a pretty cool defense-splitting dunk to begin the fourth quarter. Also, Bismack Biyombo, who must reeaaallllyyyy be enjoying that 2016 summer-of-overpays contract, blocked one of Larkin’s shot attempts. Those are two of the only notable specific things I can say about the Magic’s second-half performance. They went on a run for the first half of the fourth quarter, 14-5 at one stretch, when the Cs slacked off a bit, but couldn’t even shrink their deficit to single digits until there were just 53 seconds left in the game. It wasn’t enough to make for any final drama, and Boston played out the string with free throws and formality possessions to lock in the win.
HOT ISH: Horford’s multi-tool reliability; Rozier’s stewardship of the offense; more excellent work from Monroe and Larkin off the bench.
NOT ISH: Just because you can slack off in the fourth quarter against a tanking team doesn’t mean you should. Stevens was clearly upset with it, forever true to his #Kaizen #ProcessOverResults mindset; I’m pretty sure at one point I heard him yelling for Abdel Nader to “WAKE UP.” I know most of Celtics Twitter, weird and normie alike, wishes they could yell that at him on numerous occasions.)
In which Uncle Al tells Magic reserve forward Khem Birch: “Welcome to the NBA, rook.”
Just moosin’ around: