The Orlando Magic picked up their first win of the 2014 calendar year Sunday by holding off the Boston Celtics, 93-91, at Amway Center, ending their 10-game losing streak. They secured victory by not allowing Boston to even put up a shot on its final possession. After the buzzer sounded, Orlando's players gathered near the free-throw line in front of their bench and celebrated.
Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 20 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds, and he contributed six assists as well. Jameer Nelson added a 16-point, 10-assist double-double, while Tobias Harris scored 18 points with seven rebounds. Orlando withstood a strong performance from Boston forward Jeff Green, who scored a game-high 22 on 4-of-11 shooting from the floor and 13-of-15 shooting from the foul line.
"It was a big relief," Orlando big man Kyle O'Quinn said of ending the skid. "We had to break it at some point. It was good we broke it tonight against a team that we had to get a little revenge on [because] they kinda got at us when we played at their place, so it feels good." The Celtics had previously defeated the Magic twice in 2013/14, most recently in a 120-105 rout in Boston.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Sunday.
Seven is enough
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn used only seven players in Sunday's game, with O'Quinn and E'Twaun Moore serving as the sole reserves to log time; rotation players Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson logged Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions.
"The thought was there, going into the game, to shorten the rotation," Vaughn said afterward. "Just spinning the bigs a little bit, and spinning the smalls. That's a team that's got veterans on their team with [Gerald] Wallace and Jeff Green, and a lot of areas would have presented matchup problems for us throughout the course of the game." Vaughn went on to explain that spinning refers to using only one reserve at each position--one big and one small--and rotating that sub in as needed, rather than complicating the rotation with additional reserves.
That tactic paid off: Orlando didn't seem to miss either Nicholson or Harkless, while both O'Quinn and Moore provided great minutes off the bench. And while Green had a terrific game, Boston shot just 36.7 percent from the floor as a team. By and large, Orlando minimized the mismatches the Celtics might have thought they could create heading into the game.
Pep talk inspires improved performance
Afflalo indicated that the Magic's players and coaches met Saturday to discuss ending their losing streak. That talk also inspired the team in Sunday's win, its first over Boston since December 25th, 2010.
"Right now, the emphasis is on competing for wins," Afflalo said. "Tonight, I thought we did that. I could feel no personal agendas, I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court, and the two guys who came off the bench, really looking for a way to get a victory tonight."
The meeting's message, according to Afflalo: "We told ourself that whatever we were doing, it's not working. It's not working, so it's time to make a change now or it's going to be a free fall.
"We made up our mind tonight that good, bad, or indifferent, we were gonna compete for each other, we're gonna try to protect this building, and when we go on the road now, we'll play with the same effort and intensity through adversity."
O'Quinn's account of the meeting echoed Afflalo's. "We just talked about [...] just playing for one goal, which is a victory," he said. "It just brings out a lot of different things out of guys."
The Magic's play Sunday certainly indicated a renwed energy and sense of urgency; Harris even referred to it as a "must-win for us" when he addressed the media afterward. That urgency manifested itself in the hustle plays Orlando made, including a key rebound that Glen Davis secured which led to a Magic timeout just before the referees could whistle a jump ball.
But Orlando didn't play expertly for all 48 minutes: it missed nine of its first 11 shot attempts and, in the third quarter, had a scoreless drought which lasted nearly seven minutes. Afflalo attributed the slow start to nerves.
"The difference in our slow start tonight was a little bit of pressure we put on ourselves to wanna get it done," he said. "That's a big difference from having a slow start because you're not ready to play or you got other things on your mind. If you start out slow because you wanna win so bad, we'll recover from that, and when we do get the game in hand, we'll continue to compete all the way through."
Oladipo a "sure thing"
When he met with the media prior to Sunday's game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens offered high praise for Magic rookie Victor Oladipo, calling the combo guard an "outstanding player" with "a huge upside." Since the Magic and the Celtics last met on November 11th, Stevens said, Oladipo is playing "even more comfortably in high pick-and-roll," a product of Orlando's giving him more touches in those situations.
But if Oladipo's first-year performance has surprised the Boston coach, Stevens didn't show it.
"When you talk about guys in the Draft, specifically, there are guys that are clearly sure things," Stevens said. "And to me, he was a sure thing because you knew he was gonna give it everything he has, his work ethic's off the charts, and he's got an extra gear that a lot of guys don't have."
That extra gear has so far enabled Oladipo to avoid the so-called "rookie wall," as he's playing the best ball of his young career in January: entering Sunday's game, he was averaging 14 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists, and 3.4 turnovers on 53.2 percent True Shooting since the calendar flipped to 2014. Against Boston, he shot just 2-of-8 for nine points, but added six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks in his 39 minutes.