Orlando Magic 96, Boston Celtics 89

After a turnover-plagued first half that finished with them facing an 11-point deficit, the Orlando Magic rallied in the third quarter and held on in the fourth to deal the Boston Celtics a convincing, 96-89, defeat. The Magic went on a 19-0 run in the third quarter to take control of the game and silence the TD Garden crowd, forcing the Celtics to take difficult shots on one end while playing their inside-out game at their best at the other. Orlando's Vince Carter led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while Dwight Howard battled foul trouble to finish with 16 points, 13 boards, and 2 blocks. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy gambled by leaving Howard in the game after he picked up his 4th foul at the midway point of the third quarter, but it paid off: Orlando scored the next 16 points of the game with Howard continuing to anchor the paint defensively. Celtics do-everything point guard Rajon Rondo had his way with the Magic yet again, with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, and 3 steals, but he didn't receive enough help from his teammates in the second half as Orlando tightened the screws.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 85 112.7 54.5% 34.3 17.6 17.6
Celtics 88 101.5 45.2% 16.9 27.3 13.7
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

As important as the Magic's defense proved to be, we shouldn't overlook the job they did on the other end. In the second half, the Magic scored 56 points on 41 possessions for an offensive rating of 138.1, with an effective field goal percentage of 67.2%. The Celtics lead the NBA in defensive efficiency, but the Magic got whatever they wanted against them regardless. Orlando came up with three-point plays on four consecutive third-quarter possessions to demoralize the Celtics, or at least their fans. Carter drove the lane for a layup while drawing contact, and he finished with a free throw. Rashard Lewis and Carter alternated making three-pointers on the Magic's next 3 possessions, turning a four-point deficit into a 6-point lead in 98 seconds. It's an extreme example of one can almost never count the Magic out of a game. Lewis, Carter, Matt Barnes, and Birthday Boy Mickael Pietrus combined for 10 of Orlando's 11 treys on the day.

For me, though, the signature play came at the 10:02 mark of the 4th period. Howard had just made 2 free throws to give Orlando a 17-point lead, its largest of the game. Glen "The Eleventh Hour" Davis grabbed Rasheed Wallace's miss and tried to go back up strong. Pietrus poked his shot away from behind, Ryan Anderson tipped it again, and then Howard came from the strong side to send the shot away. Jason Williams recovered the ball. An outstanding defensive effort from three guys attempting to protect a huge lead, on the road, late in the game.

I believe an 11-point comeback on the road is impressive under any circumstances, but especially so given how poorly the Magic played in the first half. This wasn't a case of Orlando playing well and Boston playing out of its mind; it was a case of the Magic scoring at a rate 8 points less efficient per 100 possessions than the putrid New Jersey Nets, with the Celtics scoring inside with ease at the other end en route to 51 points on just 44 possessions. An extreme turnaround, on both ends of the floor, which I'll illustrate with these splits. Here's the first half:

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 45 89.6 44.7% 15.8 25.0 22.4
Celtics 44 115.3 51.2% 16.3 16.7 6.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

The Magic had an absolutely dreadful first half. They could not get into a rhythm, either missing shots after trying to go one-on-one or simply turning the ball over outright. A turnover more than once every five trips down the court in the first half for Orlando, and it didn't compensate by making its shots either. Overall poor execution against a tight, physical defense.

But, as we know, the tables turned in the second half:

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 41 138.1 67.2% 58.6 17.6 12.3
Celtics 43 87.4 38.8% 17.5 34.6 20.7
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Boston didn't have much offensive success in the second half due to its absence of clean looks. But even more importantly, the Celtics returned to their turnover-happy ways with sloppy passes, as well as the occasional shot-clock or three-second violation. The Magic do not force many turnovers, and I'd say that the Celtics have themselves to blame for most of their second-half miscues.

Orlando's offense stagnated in the late stages of the fourth quarter as it failed to establish Howard in the low-post, preferring instead to take jumpers. It's a familiar refrain, yes, and the Celtics took advantage with 7 straight points in the final 2:30, cutting Orlando's edge to 5 points with 43 seconds to play. The Magic hadn't scored a field goal since Pietrus' three-pointer at the 7:11 mark. But for the second straight game against the Celtics, Lewis broke free to help a trapped J.J. Redick on the right side of the floor, taking the pass and driving to the basket for the decisive layup. Even when they spotted the Celtics nearly 7 whole minutes without a basket, the Magic still managed to pull out the win, which attests to their defensive effort and skill.

On the whole, the win is among the Magic's finest of the season, and very significant to boot. Orlando now holds the tiebreaker with Boston should the teams finish with the same regular-season record. The Magic already have that advantage over rival Atlanta, giving it the inside track to the Eastern Conference's second seed. Obviously, there's a lot of basketball left, but Orlando has positioned itself well as it makes its playoff push.

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