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Magic Win Thriller Over Celtics

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

BOSTON – Already this young season, the Orlando Magic showed tremendous grit and depth in a tense, opening defeat of Miami and they displayed an impressive resiliency in bouncing back from a flat game-two performance by pushing the Philadelphia 76ers to the brink.

On Monday, the Magic displayed all of those positive qualities in the same game. And when they mixed in some dazzling shot-making and steady and steely late-game execution, it allowed them to storm out of Boston with the kind of victory that should raise some eyebrows around the NBA.

Riding stellar nights from Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Issac and Evan Fournier, the Magic gashed the Celtics from all angles and held on for a 93-90 victory that spoke volumes about their toughness and potential for this season.

``It says a lot because I thought (on Monday) we did all the things defensively that we didn’t do in Philly,’’ said Vucevic, who had 24 points, 12 rebounds and three steals and outplayed Boston all-star center Al Horford (15 points and six rebounds). ``We were aggressive on both ends, but I felt like our defense really got it done. (Boston) is a great team and they have a lot of players who can score, but we did a really good job, we executed the game plan and we didn’t have the little mistakes that hurt us in Philly. It showed in this win.’’

Remarkably, the Magic (2-2) never trailed in beating the Celtics (2-2) for a second time in a row at TD Garden dating back to last season. Orlando was rock-solid throughout, leading by as much as 12 points in the first quarter, by three points at the half and by as much as 13 in the third period. And each time the Celtics made a spirited run – including their three buzzer-beating shots at the end of the first three periods – Orlando was there to gamely turn back Boston again and again.

``Three out of these four (games this season) have been close and we’ve shown good poise and good fight defensively,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, who noted that a D.J. Augustin contest of a Kyrie Irving potential 3-pointer late in the game was critical play.

The defining moment of the night, however, came from a somewhat surprising source for the Magic. After Boston had gotten within 89-86, second-year forward Jonathan Isaac wisely faked a 3-pointer, dribbled twice with his left hand and calmly sank a free-throw-line jumper that quieted a roaring crowd.

While the Magic are very much used to getting big nights from long-time stalwarts such as Vucevic, Fournier (14 points, a career-high 10 assists and six rebounds) and D.J. Augustin (10 points and 10 assists), they were witnessed to a coming-of-age moment from the 21-year-old Isaac. Both his 18 points and 12 rebounds were career highs, but it was the clutch jumper with 52.7 seconds remaining that left the Magic buzzing with excitement.

``(That big shot) actually didn’t feel that great because I thought we had a layup or a dunk, but I ended up settling for a jumper,’’ Isaac said after watching his key shot on video after the game. ``I didn’t even notice (the open lane) after I got past (Boston’s Jayson) Tatum and I was like, `Oh snap, what do I do right here?’ I just pulled up and shot it and it feels good that it went in.’’

After Boston got baskets from Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, Fournier coolly drilled two free throws with 7.8 seconds left to push Orlando’s lead to 93-90. Boston, which shot just 40.7 percent from the floor and hit only nine of 40 threes, got two looks from beyond the arc – one from Irving and another from Gordon Hayward that could have tied the game – but both were off line.

``(The Celtics) had good stretches, but we kept our composure,’’ Fournier said. ``The key thing for us is making sure that we execute offensively and defensively. That’s what good teams do, and they don’t panic. That’s a big reason why we won (on Monday).’’

Aaron Gordon chipped in 13 points for Orlando, which won despite shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor. The Magic made 10 3-pointers.

The defense of Isaac held Boston’s Jayson Tatum to just seven points on three-of-12 shooting. He missed all five of his 3-point shots. Afterward, Fournier talked about Isaac looking like a veteran – both with his gritty defense and his confident shot-making.

``(The shot with 56.7 seconds) was big time for us … that was such a big play for us,’’ Fournier said. ``I told (the media) before the season that J.I. would be very important for us and when he plays well, he just gives us another weapon. He did a great job offensively and defensively and we won’t settle for less from J.I.’’

Irving finished with 22 points, but like Jaylen Brown (two of nine overall, five points), Terry Rozier (one of five on threes, five points) and Tatum, he struggled with his outside shot. Irving connected on just two of eight 3-point tries.

Orlando was in action on Monday just two nights after a heart-stopping and heart-breaking 116-115 loss in Philadelphia. In that game, the Magic led twice in the final 90 seconds, but couldn’t get the defensive stops late to close out the victory.

On Monday, the Magic made sure there was no repeat with some clutch execution late in the game.

The Magic will be off on Tuesday before returning to the practice floor on Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s 7 p.m. home game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Superstar guard Damian Lillard averaged 23.5 points against the Magic in two Portland defeats of Orlando last season.

Up three at intermission, Orlando pushed its lead out to as much as 13 points in the third period thanks to some great shooting. Four of the Magic’s first nine field goals after halftime was a 3-pointer, allowing them to lead by as much as 73-60. However, Boston strung together a 10-2 run to close the quarter to get within 75-70 by the start of the fourth. The Celtics had buzzer-beating shots at the end of the first three quarters – two of them being drive-and-kick 3-pointers from Gordan Hayward.

Vucevic seemed to pick up where he left off in Saturday’s triple-double performance, giving the Magic 16 points and nine rebounds in the first half. That production, combined with some tremendous aggression from Isaac, helped the Magic take a 48-45 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Many of those points for Vucevic were set up by passes from Fournier, who was happy to return the favor to his closest friend on the team.

``Vooch gave me, maybe 12 points or 15 in Philly and I tried to do the same thing for him tonight,’’ said Fournier, whose previous career high in assists was eight. ``I just found (Vucevic) with the switching and some plays on the pick-and-roll. I just tried to make the right play and the ball was finding (Vucevic). It was really easy for me to make the right play because the guys were open.’’

Fresh off a 27-point, 13-rebound, 12-assist performance on Saturday for the second triple-double of his career, Vucevic drilled seven of 11 shots early on. Twice, he punished smaller defenders in the post and another time he got free beyond the arc for a 3-pointer. More importantly, he badly outplayed Horford (six points and two rebounds) in the opening half.

Orlando opened the game with great ball movement and hit 12 of their first 19 shots. And by the late stages of the first period, the Magic’s superior shot selection and opportunistic defense allowed them to build a lead as large as 13 points at 32-19.

Of course, Boston would rally, but the Magic never lost the lead the rest of the half because of Isaac’s inspiring play. He used his great length to snare six rebounds in the opening 24 minutes, including an offensive carom with 3:33 left in the second period when he snatched a rebound away from a Boston defender. In the first half, he hit a corner 3-pointer, rammed in a thunderous dunk in transition and gave the Magic 11 points to go with his six boards.

``I feel like getting that first corner three to go down set it all up for me in the game,’’ said Isaac, who put in countless hours of offseason work on his body and his jump shot. ``Corner threes and offensive rebounds got me going.

``I think it’s more of a team thing (on Monday night) because we played so well, and it shows us what we’re capable of as a team when we play together and we’re focused,’’ Isaac added. ``For me, it just continues to let me know that I’m OK and I’m going to continue to get better.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.