Boston was unable to overcome three key absences Monday night and saw its league-best nine-game winning streak come to an end. The Celtics went into Orlando without Malcolm Brogdon (personal reasons), Marcus Smart (right ankle sprain), and Robert Williams (left knee injury management) and came up short to the Magic for the third time this season, 113-98.
Though, on a night when the offense was scarce, the C’s did get a promising boost from Sam Hauser, who broke out of a long shooting slump and excelled for them off the bench.
Hauser poured in 13 points in just under 19 minutes of action, finishing as Boston’s third-leading scorer behind Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who logged matching game-high 26-point efforts. The second-year wing shot 5-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, marking his best shooting performance since a 3-of-6 long-range effort on Nov. 28 against Charlotte.
Through that late-November matchup, Hauser had been shooting 48.9 percent from 3-point range. Since that game, however, he had shot just 28.0 percent from deep heading into Monday night.
Even for elite shooters, it’s not unusual to go through cold spells and it’s not always easy to heat back up. Confidence is key in that area, and according to interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, Hauser looked more comfortable Monday night than he had in recent times.
Mazzulla said he also saw a more active Hauser on the other end of the floor: “His defensive positioning was better tonight. I thought his point of contact was more physical tonight and his individual defense looked good.”
Hauser made some impressive hustle plays including one near the beginning of the fourth quarter in which he wrestled a ball out of Jalen Suggs’ grasp and flipped it up to Jayson Tatum for a 3-pointer.
“He's so much more than just a shooter, so I really enjoy when he makes those basketball plays,” said Tatum. “I don’t want to box him in as just a catch-and-shoot guy. Sam’s a really talented basketball player.”
Overall, however, offense was hard to come by for the Celtics, and that was largely their own doing. They committed 18 turnovers as a team, which allowed Orlando to get out in transition and accumulate a 24-6 advantage in fastbreak points.
The Magic were also dominant in the paint, where they out-muscled the Celtics to a 54-32 scoring advantage.
With all that being said, Boston had opportunities to get back in the game, but more health issues got in their way.
After overcoming a 15-point first-half deficit and going up by three midway through the third quarter, Tatum had to come out of the game due to stomach cramping. Orlando took advantage of the five-minute stretch he spent on the sideline, going on a 20-5 run to go back up by 13.
The C’s then shot themselves in the foot in the fourth quarter, committing six and getting outscored 25-19.
Brown said after the game that he and his remaining healthy teammates need to do a better job of figuring out ways to win when they’re shorthanded.
“We’ve got guys in and out of the lineup with different injuries and just trying to stay as healthy as possible, but also continue to play sustainable good basketball,” he said. “Tonight, we had opportunities to win or go up, and Orlando took those opportunities away with their physicality. So I give credit to them and we look forward to the next one.”
Boston doesn’t have to wait long until the next one, as it’ll head farther south to Miami for another game on Tuesday night. There, the C’s will look to bounce back and continue their unbeaten record when playing on the second night of a back-to-back.