Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics: Game Preview
ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic resume action on Friday night when they visit the Boston Celtics at 7:30 p.m. ET.
After Wednesday’s contest between the two squads was postponed – marking the third straight game for the Celtics that was delayed due to health and safety protocols – it appears that their second matchup will take place as scheduled.
The Magic made the most of their extra time between game action, focusing on getting their offensive sets more organized now that they’ll have to play the rest of the season without floor general Markelle Fultz (ACL).
Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic will continue to pick up increased playmaking duties to help ease the load on rookie point guard Cole Anthony as he acclimates to the NBA.
Gordon has been effective as a point forward in creating offense for Orlando – even against staunch ball disruptors such as Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday – but the uber-competitive University of Arizona alum is looking to cut down on turnovers when his team takes the floor in Boston.
“We (need to) get back to an Orlando Magic style of basketball, which is hard-nosed defense, sharing the ball on offense, and low turnover, low mistakes,” Gordon said. “We’re looking to keep them out of the paint and make it difficult for them on the offensive end.”
Exactly which players the Magic will have to limit still remains a mystery.
Superstar Jayson Tatum, center Robert Williams and guard Carsen Edwards have been ruled out due to health and safety protocols, while four others remain questionable under the same designation.
With so much uncertainty in regards to their lineup, it makes it difficult to craft a game plan against the Celtics. Just turn the page back to last season, when a shorthanded Boston squad deviated from their primary defensive scheme and played heavy zone against Orlando.
“They’re also a little bit tougher because (head coach) Brad (Stevens) is so creative, if they don’t have all their guys, they’re going to do something different,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said.
With that in mind, Orlando spent much of its preparation time focused on improving organizational elements of its base offense and defense.
“If we do our base stuff well, I think it’s going to give us a chance,” Vucevic said. “Then, offensively, just have to do things that work for us. move the ball, create opportunities for each other, (and) be actively offensively.”
IN AND OUT: Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left foot), Evan Fournier (back spasms), Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out. Mo Bamba (non-team contact tracing) did not travel with the team and will not play on Friday.
For the Celtics, as mentioned, Tatum, Williams and Edwards have been ruled out due to health and safety protocols. Romeo Langford (right wrist surgery) and Kemba Walker (left knee injury recovery) are also listed as out on the team’s injury report.
Jaylen Brown, Javonte Green, Semi Ojeleye, and Daniel Theis who were listed as questionable due to health and safety protocols have been cleared and are available to play.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I have confidence in our team. We have eleven games in twenty days. What I am looking for is that we win and get better. Win and get better. That’s what we need to do.” – Clifford
KEY STATS: Known as a tireless worker, Gordon spent much of the offseason continuing to work on his shots from distance. In his last four games, the 6-foot-9 forward is shooting 54.5 percent from the 3-point line – tenth best in the NBA over that span for players attempting at least three triples per game.
Speaking of good shooting, per Sportradar, over the last three seasons combined (since 2018-19), there are only five players in the NBA to average 20-plus points per game, 10-plus rebounds per game, and shoot 50-plus percent from the floor: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, and Vucevic.
RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, I brought in special guest, Celtics.com writer and reporter Marc D'Amico, who worked with me in Orlando before heading up to Boston. He was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Celtics and their outlook this season:
Savage: “I know it’s been a weird season, but what have been the strengths and the weaknesses of this Celtics team so far?”
D’Amico: “Well, (let’s look at) the strengths and the weaknesses of the team that played the first ten games of the season. The strengths were certainly Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both of those guys have continued to ascend. Jaylen Brown is unquestionably playing at an All-Star level. Jayson Tatum is maintaining his All-Star level and getting even better. Those two guys have really been the one-two punch for the Celtics this season. They’ve been the strength. They’ve carried this team on offense. They’ve played good defense, although I would say the weakness of the team right now is defense, no question. Obviously, a condensed preseason, condensed training camp. Tristian Thompson barely practiced and didn’t play during the preseason. So, I think over the first couple of weeks of this season, our defense has kind of been in training camp mode, trying to learn each other and learn the system, especially for those who are new like Tristian Thompson, Jeff Teague and these rookies. Certainly, the defense has lagged behind the offense. I’m sure that will come around in the long run because we’ve got a lot of versatile and quality defenders. But right now, there’s no question that the offense is carrying the load and Tatum and Brown are at the forefront of that.”
Savage: “How has this team adjusted to the departure of Gordon Hayward? Obviously, he was an important piece, so how have the Celtics attempted to make up for that?
D’Amico: “Visualize the door closing behind Gordon Hayward and simultaneously, the door opening in front of Jaylen Brown. That’s literally what it is. Jaylen Brown was kind of the third banana, sometimes the fourth banana, last year when you had Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward out on the court. Right now, since Kemba Walker is still out, he is one B, really. He has really taken a leap offensively just the way that he’s attacking the rim. The reads that he’s making when he attacks the rim are at such a higher level than they were in the first four years of his career. He has really made a leap this season and it has changed our team. I think the question marking going into this season was were the Celtics going to have enough to overcome that departure of Gordon Hayward, in particular his playmaking? Gordon Hayward has always been known as a guy, who can not only shoot the ball, but he can make plays for others because he’s great passer and he always makes the right play. Jaylen Brown was not that during the first four years of his career, but he’s being that right now and has been that through the first ten games of this season. Making reads, driving to the basket, making plays for others. I think he’s by far – I don’t know the exact numbers – but by far averaging his career high in assists per game. The same for Tatum. Tatum is making more plays. He set a new career high for assists with twelve assists in one game, a game he didn’t commit a single turnover in by the way. So, those two guys are really carrying the load offensively and they are picking up the slack for not only the departure of Gordon Hayward, but also Kemba Walker still being out.”
Savage: “How is the team handling the postponements due to health and safety protocols and adjusting to this bizarre season on the fly?”
D’Amico: “Obviously, this has all been unexpected, but at the same time it was expected. Brad Stevens preached all preseason, and it kind of carried over from the bubble, his term is ‘we have to be ready to hit curveballs.’ So, he has said that over, and over, and over. That could be a curveball like during training camp they had to cancel a practice due to weather. They also had to bump a practice back four hours one day because their tests hadn’t come back for COVID. So that kind of has prepared them for this now where these are all curveballs. Every day they’re waking up to curveballs and sometimes multiple curveballs where they didn’t know if they were going to be able to have shootaround, (the other day) they didn’t know if they were flying to Chicago or not, they wound up not flying. … So, the team is just staying on its toes and Brad Stevens did a really good job of preparing the guys mentally for what is now taking place on a daily basis. Just having to think on their toes, react, and really control what they can control and not worry about the things that they can’t control. They can’t control if the NBA decides that a game is not being played. But they can control what their reaction is to that and the work that they can put in either on their own or potentially in the facility if they’re allowed to go on those days that a game might be canceled. Again, just credit to Brad Stevens for kind of setting the team up for this and knowing that this was going to happen and that they had to be ready to like he says, ‘hit these curveballs,’ throughout the season. And they’re coming in fast and hot through the last week or so.”