Orlando Magic 86, Boston Celtics 78

Behind Brandon Bass' 21 points and a late 19-5 run, the Orlando Magic defeated the Boston Celtics, 86-78, on Christmas Day, ending their 14-game winning streak. A Bass jumper at the 1:36 mark of the fourth knotted the score at 77, and Jameer Nelson drained his second huge three-point basket of the period on Orlando's next possession to give it an 80-77 lead it would not relinquish. The Celtics, which led by as many as 9 points in the fourth quarter, came up empty on 13 of their 22 possessions that period.

Nelson comes up looking like the hero, for his pair of three-point baskets and 10 overall points in the fourth, but he got off to a horrid start, shooting 1-of-7 and committing 6 turnovers through the first 36 minutes of play.

This game had all the trappings of a classic Magic/Celtics battle: low shooting percentages, high turnovers, but an exciting finish to make the slog worthwhile. Before their fourth-quarter outburst, for instance, Orlando shot 33.3 percent from the floor.

For Orlando to defeat a team of Boston's caliber with Dwight Howard scoring just 6 points attests to their resolve, on some level, I believe. I understand that if Nelson misses those three-pointers, or if Celtics point guard Nate Robinson shot better tan 2-of-15, then the tone of the conversation shifts and we're instead talking about how the Celtics are still in the Magic's heads, or something. I get that. But I think, and I get the impression most Magic fans would agree with me, that last year's squad would not have pulled this game out.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Celtics 91 85.7 37.0% 22.2 14.0 14.3
Magic 92 93.5 47.2% 26.8 19.5 18.5
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers pointed out, though, that the Magic haven't fundamentally altered the way they played today despite having three new players in the rotation from last week's trades. "Everything they ran they ran last year. It's just different people in the positions." The Magic's offense, said Rivers, didn't give the Celtics much "difficulty." Instead, Nelson proved to be the difference: "He's got the biggest heart on the team. He's just a warrior."

Nelson nearly made a difference in the wrong way for Orlando, with his 6 turnovers, but he never lost confidence in his shot. Coach Stan Van Gundy didn't either, designing the play that led to Nelson's first three-pointer expressly for him, specifically so Nelson had two screens with which to work and would be able to get the ball back to his right hand. Van Gundy echoed Rivers' sentiment when he said, "Jameer is never afraid."

Bass carried his share of the offense throughout the game, but particularly in the fourth, when he shot 3-of-4 from the field for 6 points. Boston keyed in on Orlando's four other players, which freed Bass as a "safety valve" on numerous possessions. He punished the Celtics for leaving him open, however, and proved to be a major offensive factor. I don't think Boston regrets its defensive execution in this regard, but credit Bass for accepting the challenge. An excellent scorer, Bass might be the best fifth offensive option in the league, in terms of how his biggest strength--mid-range jump shooting--aligns with where he'll be needed if the offense breaks down.

I believe much of the focus on this game will go toward the Magic's incredible fourth-quarter offense, but their work defensively in the second half deserves just as much credit. Though Boston didn't exactly shoot the lights out in the first half, at 38.6 percent, it managed to get decent shot attempts, thanks largely to Paul Pierce's shot-creation. But the Magic limited the Celtics to 32 points on 29.7 percent shooting after halftime. Boston played the whole game without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, which is clearly a huge factor in all that. But the Magic, who've had just one practice in the last week, ought to be commended for their commitment defensively this afternoon, particularly in the third and fourth periods.

Howard led that charge. Though frustrated with the officiating, as both teams were, and unable to get into an offensive rhythm, Howard dominated the defensive end to an impressive degree. He blocked 5 shots in the game, and his presence was instrumental in preventing the Celtics to just 8 points on the paint on 4-of-13 shooting in the second half.

The Magic got off to a hot start even without Howard contributing, opening the game on a 13-0 run which went to pot slowly but steadily as Pierce heated up. Boston responded with a 15-0 run of its own over the next 5:12 of game time; Pierce accounted for 12 of those points via a score or assist.

It's hard to know what exactly to make of this victory, but Orlando has inarguably improved since its ugly new-look debut last Monday against the Atlanta Hawks. It beat the San Antonio Spurs, then on a 10-game win streak, with high-octane offense, but took down the streaking Celtics today with excellent defense and timely shooting, so you like to see the variety with which it's winning.

As Van Gundy said, he'll have a better idea of where his team stands when it gets back to "the grind." The Magic play a set of back-to-back games on the road this week, and the excitement of the trades, the novelty of the new acquisitions, will wear off. How his players respond in those situations will be telling.

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