The Orlando Magic showed admirable fight Sunday night, rallying from a deficit which reached as much as 20 points to defeat the Boston Celtics, 103-98, in regulation. Boston, which entered the night as one of the East's hottest teams as winners of five of its last seven, couldn't handle the Magic's pressure defense, and Orlando overcame some sloppiness of its own down the stretch to earn its second straight win.
Victor Oladipo kept up his brilliant March play by going 7-of-16 from the floor for a team-best 22 points, along with seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Making another start in relief of the injured Nik Vučević, Dewayne Dedmon scored 11 points and tallied a career-best 16 boards, including eight offensively. And perhaps most impressively, Moe Harkless put together a brilliant all-around game off the bench, coming up with 14 points, seven boards, three assists, and three steals.
Boston placed five players in double-figures, with Isaiah Thomas' 21 off the bench leading the way. Former Orlando big man Brandon Bass grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, and 17 total, to reach a new career-high in that category, and he added to that total with 19 points and five assists.
The Magic took the lead for good with 3:06 to play off a pair of Payton free throws as he crossed over fellow rookie Marcus Smart and made his way into the paint to draw a foul. The Magic followed that possession up with a Tobias Harris three-pointer. On Boston's next possession, Harkless darted into the passing lane and picked off a Smart pass, heading the other way for an emphatic slam which prompted the normally mild-mannered forward to bellow in celebration.
As anyone who's followed this team since the Dwight Howard era ended knows, inbounding the ball is always an adventure. An unlikely Bass triple brought the visitors to within six points with 35 seconds to play, and Payton booted the ensuing inbounds pass. Celtics forward Jae Crowder headed the other way for a sure one-handed jam, only for Orlando rookie Aaron Gordon to erase the play with a chase-down block; both Crowder and Boston coach Brad Stevens argued that the officials missed a sure foul call, but the play was not subject to review.
Boston committed two flagrant fouls, including a flagrant-two and automatic rejection on Smart for elbowing Payton in the chin, in the game's final seconds. It hardly mattered. Orlando had fought back and fended off a rebuilding team that had nonetheless found its groove lately. And it did so down five players, including two key ones: Vučević and Evan Fournier were the most notable absences, but Devyn Marble, Luke Ridnour, and Willie Green were also unavailable.
Whether the Magic can maintain this level of play remains to be seen, but the road ahead doesn't get easier: Orlando plays five of its next six games away from home, with each contest coming against teams still in the playoff picture.