Postgame Report: Magic 103, Celtics 95

By John Denton
Jan. 21, 2018

BOSTON – So many times before – 14 times, to be exact – the Orlando Magic had dejectedly trudged out of the TD Garden beaten and sometimes embarrassed about what had just happened against the home-standing Boston Celtics.

On Sunday, with New England partially distracted by Tom Brady’s health and the New England Patriots playing in the AFC Championship Game just miles away, the Magic played with great precision for three quarters and with tremendous toughness in the fourth to end an unsightly losing streak in Boston.

Even before Orlando fully completed its 103-95 beating of the Celtics to end a 14-game losing streak in Boston that spanned seven years, fans inside the TD Garden headed for the exits. Most likely, they were off to watch Brady and Co. face the Jacksonville Jaguars. Possibly, they were shocked by what they had just seen and couldn’t stand to bear witness to the Magic’s joyous celebration at midcourt.

The sweet silence that filled the TD Garden air had to be especially satisfying for long-standing members of the Magic, many of whom had never emerged from the building victorious while wearing Orlando blue and black pinstripes.

``We got humiliated a few times here, so it feels pretty good to win here,’’ admitted Orlando guard Evan Fournier, who scored 19 points, drilled three 3-pointers and handed out three assists. ``Actually, it might be my first win here since I’ve been in the NBA, so it’s a weird feeling.’’

For the record, it was Fournier’s first NBA victory in Boston. The same could be said for Magic teammates Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and Khem Birch, who filled the visiting locker room with loud cheers all throughout the postgame celebration.

Orlando, 14-32 and playing its best basketball since a promising 6-2 start to the season, demolished the NBA’s best field goal defense in the third period by a 32-12 margin. The Magic wobbled quite a bit in the fourth period, missing 15 of their first 16 shots and allowing the Celtics to close within 93-86 and 100-93 late in the game. That had to be especially disconcerting considering that East-leading Boston (34-13) is first in the NBA in double-digit comebacks with nine.

However, Kyrie Irving (40 points) and the Celtics would get no closer thanks to the gritty toughness of Payton (four fourth-quarter points) and Birch (four points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in the final period alone).

``Two games in a row we played really good defense in the second half and we hung in the game,’’ said Magic coach Frank Vogel, whose squad allowed the Celtics to shoot just 33.3 percent after halftime. ``We struggled a little bit offensively with the ball movement against a great defense, but they did enough to beat a heck of a basketball team.’’

Payton, Orlando’s fourth-year point guard, won in Boston for the first time by scoring 22 points and grabbing six rebounds. He stayed in attack mode against Irving all day and made nine of 16 shots by relentlessly attacking the rim. He led Orlando’s charge of attacking the rim. The Magic scored 62 paint points by making 31 of 55 shots in the lane.

``I think it says a lot about our toughness because we played well today,’’ Payton said. ``Everybody, collectively, all played well and it’s all about transferring it over to the next game. … We’re scratching for wins anywhere and not just (in Boston). It feels good to get a win because we felt we played well against the Cavs (on Thursday) and to get the win this time feels great.’’

Over the last seven games, Orlando leads the NBA in points in the paint per game – a directive of Vogel’s after the squad lost center Nikola Vucevic to a fractured left hand on Dec. 23. In those seven games, when the Magic have started to build their best momentum in weeks, they are averaging a whopping 55.7 points per game in the lane.

``They’re probably sick of hearing me preach about (moving the ball), but when Vooch went down, I sort of refocused their efforts on building an extra-pass culture,’’ Vogel said. ``I don’t just talk about it; we show it every day on film and show the extra passes that we’re missing and we’ve got to continue to preach that. We don’t have a MVPO-caliber player on this team and we’ve got to continue to preach that approach. The guys are doing a great job.’’

The Magic victory was also extra special for Birch, a Canadian native who went to high school 57 miles away from Boston in Fitchburg, Mass. He missed his first five shots of the game, but he finished with a flurry: His two put-backs in the fourth quarter and his swat of an Irving late in the game sealed Orlando’s victory.

``I went to high school here and I used to come to games and see the TD Garden and now I’m playing in it,’’ said Birch, who was in high school when the Magic last won in Massachusetts. ``It’s a humbling experience and I’m making the most of it.’’

Fournier (19 points), Gordon (11 points and 13 rebounds), Shelvin Mack (10 points) and D.J. Augustin (10 points) all played well as Orlando had five players reach double figures in scoring for a 32nd time this season.

Boston shot just 43.5 percent from the floor. Jaylen Brown (17 points) and Marcus Morris (10 points) were its only other double-digit scorers.

The Magic came into Sunday extremely proud of the way they had played of late despite dropping two of the past three games. Orlando pushed Washington and Cleveland to the brink before losing in heartbreaking fashion, but it did play extremely well in a home defeat of the star-studded Minnesota Timberwolves. Orlando had made major strides by improving its defense and battering foes with points in the paint.

Orlando will be back on the practice floor on Monday and will face the Sacramento Kings at the Amway Center on Tuesday. Winners at home last week against Minnesota, the Magic will be trying to win consecutive games on the Amway Center parquet for the first time in weeks. They are 8-12 thus far at home.

Down one point at the half, Orlando played one of its best stretches of basketball all season in the third period, bucking a recent trend of struggling right after intermission. The Magic used a 23-5 burst in the guts of the third to break the game open and it had a seemingly safe 90-71 edge at the end of the third after Mario Hezonja converted a tough runner in traffic and buried a 3-pointer from straight on.

In that third period, Orlando outscored Boston 32-12. The Magic not only made 15 of 25 shots in the quarter (60 percent), but they held the Celtics to four of 17 (23.5 percent) and allowed Irving to score just eight points.

Irving, who missed the previous game with a shoulder injury, was downright dominant in the first half. He had 10 of Boston’s first 14 points, notched 15 in the first quarter and had 24 by halftime.

Orlando’s offense was every bit as good as Irving’s – thanks, in large part, to its reserve corps. The Magic gashed the NBA’s top defense in field goal percentage allowed (43.1 percent) for 56.1 percent shooting in the opening half. After starting five of 12, the Magic had an extended period bridging the first and second quarters when they connected on 12 of 18 tries. Orlando was especially efficient in the second quarter, drilling 12 of 19 tries and connecting three times from 3-point range in the period.

In the end, it didn’t matter that the Magic wobbled at the end of the first and second periods or that they let much of their lead slip away in the tense moments early in the fourth. Ultimately, the Magic found a way to win a place where the franchise had struggled since that last victory in Boston on Jan. 17, 2011. The Celtics, which had beaten Orlando twice earlier this season, suffered its first three-game losing streak of the season because it was no match for the Magic’s momentum on this day.

``We’ve been playing good basketball, we really have,’’ said an emphatic Vogel, who was wearing a Philadelphia Eagles’ half-zip shirt – supporting his favorite football team – following Orlando’s victory. ``Starting with the Washington game our energy and enthusiasm for what was in front of us was really good. We carried that over to the Minnesota game and got a (win) and we played well in Cleveland and were in position to get a (win). Getting a win now here is really big for us.’’

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