Postgame Report: Magic vs. Celtics

By John Denton
Nov. 5, 2017

ORLANDO – Nearly unstoppable in their first eight games as they piled up a host of franchise records for points, threes and highlight plays off the fast break, the Orlando Magic have been slowed by a foe they likely never saw as a threat to their early success.

Injuries, particularly at the all-important point guard position, have not only knocked the Magic out of sorts offensively, but they have played a major role in them dropping two straight games for the first time thus far.

When the Magic struggled to create open shots and missed most of the ones they attempted, their offense ground to a halt once again and they predictably lost 104-88 to the surging Boston Celtics.

Now, with two days off before their next game, the Magic (6-4) are faced with these realities: They averaged 114.9 points and shot 48.9 percent from the floor and a NBA-best 44.1 percent from 3-point range in the first eight games of the season with either Elfrid Payton or D.J. Augustin starting at point guard. Without either of them in the lineup the past two losses, they’ve averaged a meager 88 points while making only 38.4 percent of their shots and a 25 percent success rate on 3-pointers.

Hope is possibly on the way with Wednesday’s expected return of Payton – the Magic’s starter much of the past 3½ seasons – but until then the Magic can only ponder what has gone wrong without a true point guard in the mix.

``It’s obviously big not having E.P. and D.J. on the floor and it has disrupted the rhythm,’’ said Magic shooting guard Evan Fournier, whose season-long efficiency took a hit on Sunday with a two-for-14 shooting night and a six-point effort. ``(Jonathon Simmons) plays great for us, but he’s not a point guard. We put him in a position he’s not used to being in. So, it’s tough now.’’

A noisy Amway Center crowd of 17,731 saw Orlando shoot just 36.3 percent from the floor and make only six of 29 3-point shots. Boston (8-2) was far from at its best, making just 43.8 percent of its shots and getting only 11 points from superstar guard Kyrie Irving, but it still had enough firepower to win an eighth straight game and frustrate the Magic.

Some of the Magic’s struggles could have been because of an active and lengthy Boston defense that is statistically the best in the NBA. Most of the issues, however, seem to stem to the Magic being without a playmaker to set up others and knock down shots when defenses sag.

``Well, it changes things (not having a point guard), there’s no doubt about that,’’ said Magic coach Frank Vogel, whose team had previously rebounded from its two losses with convincing defeats of Cleveland and New Orleans. ``But it’s a combination of things now. We get a little out of rhythm and our shooters go cold all at the same time. It’s just part of the NBA season and we have to battle through it.’’

Orlando hoped to have Payton available to play after the point guard looked solid in practice on Saturday. However, his strained left hamstring tightened up after the workout and he was held out of an eighth consecutive game.

Further complicating matters was the fact that Augustin – the starter during much of the strong start – missed his second straight game because of a strained left hamstring.

Those injuries took quite a toll on Friday as the Magic melted down offensively in an ugly 105-83 loss to the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.

Again, on Sunday, Orlando’s offensive attack – one that allowed it to zoom to the top of the NBA in several major statistical categories – struggled to create open shots and string together any sort of consistent success. The Magic trailed by a basket after the first period, was in an 11-point hole at the half and got no closer than four in the second half of the game.

``The last two games, both games, we kind of went away from what makes us good and makes our offensive effective,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who approached a triple-double (13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) despite making just six of 15 shots and missing three of his four 3-point attempts. ``We start forcing things, trying to do things that we’re just not good at doing. We can’t do that, especially against a team like the Celtics. Some of the shots that we took, they wanted us to take those shots. That’s what they are giving you and you can’t fall into that.’’

Aaron Gordon had 18 points, but he hit just one 3-pointer after Boston head coach Brad Stevens made the decision to start forward Marcus Morris (instead of burly center Aron Baynes) to combat the Magic forward’s improved long-distance shooting. Simmons, who made his first regular-season start in Magic pinstripes, scored 14 points in 24 minutes.

Terrence Ross, who came into the game shooting just 32.9 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from 3-point range, made only two of 12 tries and missed all four of his threes. He finished with nine points in 29 minutes, but said he hasn’t lost a bit of confidence that he can be effective as a wing scorer for Orlando.

``I’ve just got to get in a better rhythm, but it’s the start of the season and I’m not worried about it,’’ said Ross, who has made just 10 of 42 3-point shots in 10 games. ``Just keep shooting and one night you’ll catch fire and get back to yourself. You can’t really think about why too much because there are so many more games that you have. It’s not even three or four months into the season, so I’m not even really worried about it.’’

Boston, which has now won five games in a row in the series, came into Sunday was the NBA’s best defense and it bettered those numbers on this night. Second-year guard Jaylen Brown scored 18 points and hit three 3-pointers, while Al Horford chipped in 14 points, 10 rebounds and three 3-pointers.
Orlando will have Monday and Tuesday to use as practice days before wrapping up its three-game home stand on Wednesday against the New York Knicks.

Boston, winners in Oklahoma City on Friday thanks to a huge second-half comeback led by Irving, play in Atlanta on Monday on the second night of a back-to-back. The Hawks were surprise winners in Cleveland on Sunday, dropping the Cavs to 4-6.

Cleveland was one of the teams that the Magic routed earlier in the season, but that’s when they had Augustin healthy and on the floor to run the offense. Without Payton or Augustin, the Magic’s offense slowed to a crawl on Friday against the Bulls, setting several season lows and equaling two franchise lows from the free throw line. And, in some ways, Sunday was even uglier, but Fournier said there is zero panic in this still-confident Magic squad.

``It’s Game 10,’’ he said. ``Just like we weren’t too high when we had a 6-2 start, we are not going to get too low because we lost by (16 points). It’s a good reminder that we have a long way to go. The Celtics are playing really, really well and we’re just not good enough yet to beat this team.’’

Down 11 at the half, the Magic made a strong charge in the third quarter and surged within 69-65 of the Celtics. However, Boston seemed to blunt every Orlando run with a back-breaking 3-pointer. The Celtics made five of eight shots from beyond the arc in the third period to take a 77-69 advantage in the final 12 minutes of the game.

The Magic trailed 49-38 at the half and, quite frankly, they were fortunate to be that close considering the struggles on both ends of the floor. Orlando connected on just 32.6 percent of its shots and only three of 13 3-point shots in the early going and had trouble slowing Irving (10 points) and Horford (nine points).

Vogel noted that Payton was ``close’’ to playing on Sunday and he feels the guard will be ready on Wednesday after the Magic ``played it safe’’ against the Celtics. He said the lesson that Orlando needs to learn following its first two-game losing streak of the season is that it must find other ways to win when it isn’t torrid with jump shots.

``We have to find a rhythm and we have to find other ways when your shots aren’t falling,’’ Vogel noted. ``We weren’t good enough defensively – we weren’t bad defensively – but not good enough to win when shots aren’t falling. That’s part of managing a NBA season – finding ways to win games like that.’’

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