The Orlando Magic entered Tuesday's game over the Boston Celtics having lost five of their last six, with their lone victory in that stretch coming on a buzzer-beating shot by Tobias Harris. So when they jumped out to a 30-9 lead after the first quarter, it appeared as though they were well on their way to securing an easy victory.
But Boston did more than simply make the game interesting: it nearly pulled off an incredible upset, closing to within three points in the late stages of the game and forcing Orlando to knuckle down. Which it did, thanks in large part to some clutch foul shots from Kyle O'Quinn. The third-year big man converted four crucial freebies down the stretch to preserve Orlando's victory.
O'Quinn, starting at power forward alongside Nikola Vucevic at center for the second straight game, tallied 18 points and 13 rebounds. Vucevic, for his part, had 18 and 12, while Harris led the way with 19 points.
"Cautious and lucky"
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn came away pleased that his team remained "focused" enough to hold off the Celtics' furious rally.
"That's a lot of adversity along the way, to be able to just stay focused throughout the course of the game," said Vaughn. "I told the guys, they deserved the win, but at the same time, we were a bit cautious and lucky at the end of the game."
O'Quinn echoed that sentiment moments later, addressing the media from his stall in Orlando's locker room.
"We can't enjoy this one too much," he said.
"They made they run late and made it interesting," he added later. "We had our backs against the wall and we fought through it." The Norfolk State product said the Magic must eliminate some of their bad habits, a process they'll work through in Wednesday's practice. He suggested Orlando will benefit from staying "out of the gym" over the holiday break.
O'Quinn comes up big
In addition to sinking those four foul shots, O'Quinn also drew a key foul against Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk. With Orlando up five and 1:59 to play, Olynyk uncorked a three-pointer from the left wing which missed the mark as O'Quinn closed hard against him. Both players fell to the floor, and referee Lauren Holtkamp ruled Olynyk pulled O'Quinn down. After reviewing the play via video replay, the officials confirmed the call.
"I wasn't looking for no foul, I wasn't looking to create no foul," he said. "I just fell."
O'Quinn himself said the call could have gone either way.
The foul sent O'Quinn to the foul line, where he converted both shots, but also cost the Celtics two more points: Vucevic and Harris, in attempting to corral the defensive board, inadvertently tipped Olynyk's miss into the basket.
In July, the Magic elected not to bring Jameer Nelson back for an 11th season. He signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent, and wound up in Boston as part of the recent Rajon Rondo trade.
Tuesday, Nelson recorded his first start as a Celtic, and he performed admirably, finishing with nine points and a game-best 11 assists. He dropped five of those dimes as Boston made its fourth-quarter rally, doing an expert job running the Celtics' offense. Four of those assists led to open shots at the rim, and the other went to a three-point shooter. Put another way, Nelson orchestrated an efficient attack which kept Orlando on its heels.
"You kinda forget how he plays a little bit," said Victor Oladipo, who defended Nelson for portions of the fourth quarter, "until he hits you with a crazy move."
Oladipo said Nelson is "like family" and that playing against him Tuesday brought back "memories" of doing the same in practices during Oladipo's rookie year.
For the second straight game, Orlando rolled with a starting five of Elfrid Payton, Oladipo, Harris, O'Quinn, and Vucevic, with Evan Fournier and Channing Frye moving to the bench. Prior to Tuesday's tip, Vaughn assessed the extremely early returns from his new starting unit.
"I thought overall the addition of Kyle helped our rebounding and protection of our paint, and gave us a decent balance off the bench, definitely the threat to score the basketball," said Vaughn. "[We got] 20 points off the bench and 16 by Evan, I believe. That'll improve as Channing gets comfortable with that second unit as well."
Through Monday's games, Orlando ranked 23rd in bench points per game, getting 29 off the pine on average. Before moving Fournier and Frye to the second unit, Ben Gordon represented the only real scoring threat off the Magic's bench. Vaughn hopes his first and second units will have more balance between offense and defense.