Celtics Vividly Remember Orlando's Frontline Dominance Back in Oct.
ORLANDO – One key factor stands above the rest in the reason behind Orlando’s 1-0 record against the Celtics this season. According to Brad Stevens, that factor is frontline play.
The Celtics and the Magic are set to meet again at 7 p.m. tonight in Orlando, nearly 12 weeks after the Magic knocked the C’s off 93-90 on Oct. 22 inside TD Garden. Orlando’s starting frontcourt was dominant during that game, outscoring Boston’s 55-33 and outrebounding Boston’s 27-20.
Stevens certainly hasn’t forgotten.
“Their frontcourt had 55 between the 3, 4 and 5 (positions) out of their 93 (total points),” he said Saturday morning, after being asked what stood out to him about the Magic. “And so we came up short in some areas when you look back at the defense where we need to be better.”
In particular, the Celtics must be better against Nikola Vucevic, who is making a serious bid for his first career All-Star selection with season averages of 20.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Vucevic was the game’s leading scorer and rebounder during the first matchup between these two teams, as he tallied 24 points and 12 boards. Eight of his 11 made field goals that night were scored inside the paint, where he averages 11.0 PPG this season.
The challenge of defending Vucevic around the paint tonight will be compounded by the fact that Aron Baynes remains sidelined with a left hand injury.
Baynes is widely considered to be Boston’s top interior defender and rim protector. The Celtics have greatly missed his presence of late while facing off against some of the league’s elite interior players, as exemplified by the quintet of DeAndre Jordan, Karl-Anthony Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Clint Capela combining to average 22.2 points and 13 rebounds against Boston during Baynes’ absence.
Coincidentally, Baynes also missed the first matchup between these two teams when Vucevic played so well.
Without Baynes, Al Horford will likely see the lion’s share of defensive possessions against Vucevic. Daniel Theis and Robert Williams are almost certain to see time against Orlando’s top scorer as well.
Williams, in particular, may have earned a greater opportunity tonight after his performance Thursday night in Miami. The big man checked in for the first time during the third quarter of that game and helped Boston trim a 26-point deficit all the way down to eight during that period. After the game, Stevens lauded Williams’ ability to affect shots in the paint with the presence of his bouncy and lanky body.
Tonight will be a whole different animal than Thursday night, however. There is no big man on Miami’s roster who compares to the offensive package which Vucevic brings to the table. The Celtics are well aware of that fact after watching Vucevic and his frontline teammates lead the Magic to a win up in Boston earlier this season.