Celtics Work Their Magic on Defensive End in Orlando

Presented by Socios.com

After showing signs of their defensive potential in spurts over the last couple of weeks, the Boston Celtics stepped it up a notch Wednesday night in Orlando and produced their most complete defensive effort of the season.

In fact, purely from a points-allowed standpoint, it was their strongest effort in nearly three years. And from a field-goals-allowed standpoint, it was their best effort in nearly six years.

Bouncing back from a 128-114 home loss to the Chicago Bulls two nights prior, Boston picked up a 92-79 road win over the Magic, marking its first sub-80-point defensive effort since Dec. 8, 2018, when it defeated the Bulls, 133-77, in its most lopsided win in franchise history.

Although there was no historic aspect to Wednesday night’s win, it was satisfying nonetheless for a Celtics team that was coming off three straight difficult losses.

“I was encouraged,” Al Horford said of the overall effort, which included a 12-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist, two-block performance on his part. “We talked about just coming out, setting the tone on the defensive end, and having that right energy. I feel like everybody was very connected and doing the things we need to do. We showed some signs of consistency in that area and the offense kind of flowed a little bit. But that was encouraging because, at this point, we just need to be better as a group.”

At first, Orlando's offense seemed to be clicking, as it came out of the gates with a 28-point first quarter. However, the Celtics settled the Magic down by allowing just 28 more in the second and third quarters combined. Boston went into the half down by four, but came out of the break firing on all cylinders for a 31-10 third-quarter advantage.

“We came out with some good intensity,” head coach Ime Udoka said of his team’s effort after halftime. “We talked about their 18-point second quarter and wanted to have some carryover there … We felt like they were getting too many points in the paint. They had 16 in the first quarter and finished with 32. So we wanted to lock up the paint and make them beat us with jump shots.”

However, beating the Celtics with jump shots was something that Orlando could not do. The Magic shot just 27-of-84 (32.1 percent) from the field, marking the fewest field goals Boston had allowed in a game since Nov. 27, 2015 against Washington. Orlando also shot just 9-of-43 (20.9 percent) from 3-point range.

The C’s didn’t score a tremendous amount themselves on the other end, but they did display some great ball movement, dishing out 24 assists on 33 made field goals. So, it was one of their first well-rounded games of the season.

“We’ve been in some shootouts this year where we didn’t play defense well, and then we had games where we really guarded well but didn’t shoot well,” said Udoka. “So it was good to put a semi-solid game together, especially over those last three quarters defensively. It’s something we have to rely on every night, whether the shots fall or not.”

Boston will certainly have to rely on that defense Thursday night when it faces off against the only remaining one-loss team in the East, the Miami Heat. On paper, it is the most challenging matchup yet for Boston, playing the first-place team on the road, and on the second night of a back-to-back.

However, the C’s do have a couple of factors going their way. For one, they were able to rest their core players down the stretch against Orlando, so they shouldn’t be as fatigued as they would have been following a closer game. And two, they’re extra hungry to pile up more wins after their slow start.

“We didn't start the season the way we would have liked to, but we have an urgency to try and get back to where we want to be,” Jaylen Brown stated following a game-high 28-point effort. “Tonight was a good win, and we're looking forward to the next one."

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