Magic vs. Celtics: Postgame Report

By John Denton
Dec. 7, 2016

ORLANDO – All the hallmarks of the Orlando Magic’s stirring play from a rousing road trip – one where they thumped San Antonio, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington over a nine-day period – mysteriously disappeared in Wednesday’s second half when the Boston Celtics ratcheted up the intensity.

The selfless sharing of the ball, the infectious play defensively that resulted in dozens of swatted shots and violent contests at the rim and the mental and physical grit displayed when things got tough – all those things were surprisingly lacking when fatigue and a lack of execution got the best of the Magic.

Up one at the half and hopeful that it could continue the momentum culled from what looked to be a season-turning road trip, the Magic fell apart in a one-sided second half that forced them to try and stomach a 117-87 home loss to the Boston Celtics.

``We just didn’t play the right way and we didn’t play our game, plus our defense was terrible,’’ huffed Magic center Bismack Biyombo, who had four points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. ``We can sit here and talk about this and that, but we didn’t play the way that we’ve been playing. We started holding onto the ball longer. I don’t think `selfish’ would be the right way to put it, but we didn’t trust the next guy. If you play like that, you are going to lose.’’

That was the fate suffered by the Magic (10-13), which fell flat before an Amway Center crowd of 17,009 that came to see if they could extend the run from the recent 4-1 road trip.

Instead, 24 hours after scoring a season-best 124 points in a hard-fought and emotional victory in Washington, the Magic’s weariness from playing a second time in as many nights was evident all throughout the second half. After shooting 50 percent and making eight of 10 3-pointers in the first half, the Magic slogged their way to 26.7 percent shooting and three-of-16 accuracy from the arc over the final 24 minutes. Orlando was outscored 68-37 in an unsightly second half.

``They were more aggressive than us in the second half, getting into us, getting into the passing lanes and being more aggressive,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who finished with 14 points and five assists, but he made just one of seven shots after halftime. ``We lost our rhythm and it seems like we never found it in the second half. It’s frustrating.’’

Orlando not only saw its two-game winning streak come to an end, but it also suffered a fourth straight home loss to drop the record to 4-7 at the Amway Center. Head coach Frank Vogel, who seemed to have pushed all the right buttons of late with a lineup change and some team-bonding moments on the road, knows the Magic must be better at home if they are going to have a realistic shot at reaching the desired goal of the playoffs.

``We want to try to play .500 basketball on the road and be dominant at home,’’ Vogel said. ``We haven’t been near good enough here at home and we need to start showing our fans what we’re capable of doing. We’ve dropped some that we feel like we should have won and we’ve got to start putting together some wins.’’

Winning wasn’t much of a possibility on Wednesday when the road-weary Magic got outscored 36-23 in the third quarter by the rested Celtics (13-9).

An Orlando team that averaged nearly 103 points a game while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor on the recent road trip ground to a halt after posting a 50-49 first-half lead. The Magic missed nine of their first 12 shots of the third quarter, while the Celtics swung the ball around, found cutters and sank nine of 11. By the time rookie Jaylen Brown finished off a three-point play with 3:11 left in the period, the Magic were staring at a 78-60 deficit.

To a man, the Magic didn’t want to blame the difficulty of the schedule, but then again they acknowledged that the deck seemed to be stacked against them by just getting home from a nine-day trip to face a team that had been in Central Florida for 48 hours waiting on them.

``I don’t want to put it on the fatigue, that’s not the problem,’’ Fournier said. ``But our schedule has been very tough. Coming off a back-to-back after a road trip – I’ve never done that in my five years (in the NBA). We’ve just got to stay at it.’’

D.J. Augustin had 15 points, all of them coming in a hot-shooting first half. Power forward Serge Ibaka, Orlando’s best player much of the past two weeks on both ends of the floor, had just eight points, eight rebounds and one blocked shot on Wednesday. He has been a big barometer for the Magic’s success this season, averaging 17.6 points on 55 percent in the 10 victories and just 12 points on 41.8 percent shooting in the 12 losses before Wednesday.

Nikola Vucevic, who was scratched in the right eye in the game, chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Vucevic, like Biyombo, was frustrated by the fact that the Celtics were the more aggressive team after halftime.

``I thought that we let them take the game to us and we didn’t respond,’’ Vucevic said. ``They played really physical, they got us out of our stuff, and offensively they were getting whatever they wanted. We just didn’t respond the right way to their physicality.’’

Orlando seemed to have caught a break when the Celtics were without dazzling point guard Isaiah Thomas (groin strain), who is tied for ninth in the league at 26 points per game. The Magic have already beaten Washington when it didn’t have John Wall, New Orleans when it was without Anthony Davis and Dallas sans Dirk Nowitzki this season at the Amway Center. However, all those games were struggles because of strong play from lesser-known fill-ins, and Vogel warned his team of that very thing happening on Wednesday.

Boston got 23 points and three 3-pointers from Avery Bradley, while Terry Rozier (16 points) and Brown (13 points) hurt the Magic off the bench. Boston made just two of 15 3-pointers in the first half, but it drilled three of five in the decisive, game-turning third quarter. In the final 24 minutes, the Celtics made 59.5 percent of their shots, scored 36 points in the paint and connected on five threes.

``They brought great pressure and, you know, credit Boston for a great second half,’’ Vogel said. ``Like we said (to the team in the pregame walk-through session), they have three pitbulls on the perimeter in Avery (Bradley), (Marcus) Smart and (Jae) Crowder. Those guys really got into us and controlled the game.’’

Orlando is in arguably its most difficult stretch of schedule all season. Starting with Tuesday’s win in Washington and Wednesday’s home loss, the Magic are playing four times in five nights – the bane of most NBA players and a bunch in the schedule that the NBA has worked to reduce.

Just off the nine-night road trip, Orlando will be back on the road on Thursday to play in Charlotte on Friday. They conclude the grinding stretch with a home game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

``That’s our job. That’s what we do,’’ Vucevic said of being forced to play back-to-back sets of games. ``We’re not the only team in the NBA that has back-to-backs after road trips. It’s a part of the job that we do and we have to adjust to that. We can’t use that as an excuse.’’

This could bear watching: In situations where the Magic play on consecutive nights, they are 2-2 on the first night and just 1-3 on the second night. The one victory came last week in Philadelphia following the crushing loss in Memphis a night earlier.

Orlando led 50-49 at intermission and it took a huge discrepancy from the 3-point line to hold onto that advantage. The Magic was hot all half from the arc, drilling eight of 10 3-point tries. Meanwhile, Boston lived up to its reputation as a poor-shooting team, making just two of 15 3-point tries in the first 24 minutes.

None of it would last in the second half, as Orlando’s ball movement ground to a halt, it’s interior defense crumbled with Boston scoring 58 paint points and the spirit built up from the road was broken.

``When you watch guys play on the road, we play different and we rely on our defense. Tonight, we were trying to rely on our offense and it was one-on-one basketball,’’ Biyombo said. ``That includes everybody, and myself. At the end of the day, we’ve got to do better. We’re going to have a home stretch coming up (after Tuesday’s game in Atlanta) and we’ve got to find a way to put some (home) victories together and be prepared for the next road trip.’’

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.

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