With a showdown against the Boston Celtics, the Magic had an opportunity to send a message to all of their critics who questioned their sustainability and warned of their impending regression.
But the Magic were unable to make that statement, falling to the Celtics 104-88, and in no way converted any believers of those who questioned the legitimacy of their 6-2 start to the season.
The once-surging Magic offense, playing without their top two point guards, shot just 36.3 percent from the field and hit just 6 of 29 three-point attempts (20.7 percent).
Still, the shorthanded Magic lingered through three quarters. But each time they chipped away at the Celtics' lead and seemed poised for a run, their momentum was stalled by a missed open look, a turnover, or a Celtics' second-chance opportunity.
After their previous losses this season, the Magic were able to bounce back to win their following game in impressive fashion. That was not the case against the Celtics. The Magic's shooting struggles from their surprising loss to the Bulls on Friday carried over into Sunday as Orlando lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
The Magic in the first half shot just 32.6 percent from the field, including 3-of-13 from three-point range, and fell behind by 13. With the open looks the Magic were missing, it wouldn't have made much of a difference if their point guard was Elfrid Payton, Shelvin Mack or Magic Johnson.
Jonathon Simmons, who started in place of Mack to help contain Kyrie Irving, got into early foul trouble, collecting his second foul with 7:35 remaining in the first quarter. Mack scored six straight points in the second to give the Magic a 26-25 lead. But Boston answered wth a 10-0 run, capped when Simmons fumbled the ball, Marcus Smart picked it up and delivered an outlet to Jayson Tatum, who converted the layup plus the foul to give the Celtics a 35-26 lead.
The lead grew to 13, before Aaron Gordon, who was quiet (and/or ignored) to that point in the game, came alive. Gordon scored eight straight Magic points, including a three and three-point play, as the Magic pulled within 45-38. The Celtics, who shot just 41.3 percent in the half, went into the break with a 49-38 advantage. Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier each shot just 1-for-8 in the first half.
The Magic opened the third more aggressive as they attacked the basket and got the the free throw line. Simmons completed a pair of three-point plays that helped pull the Magic within 57-51.
A Gordon tip-in cut the deficit to four. After swarming defense by the Magic forced a tough fadeaway by Irving as the shot clock expired, the Celtics corralled the loose ball and found Jaylen Brown for the corner three. Horford followed with a bucket in the paint to build a 74-65 lead with just over four minutes left in the third. The Magic, after tallying 31 points in the third, entered the fourth trailing 77-69.
It didn’t stay close for much longer. The Celtics opened the fourth on a 10-2 run to take an 87-71 advantage. The lead grew to as many as 23 as the Celtics went on to win their eighth straight game. The Magic squandered an opportunity to, not only have a statement game, but pull even with Boston (8-2) atop the Eastern Conference standings.
All five Celtics starters finished in double figures, with Brown leading the way with 18 points. Irving finished with just 11.
Gordon had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Magic. Simmons added 14 points in 21 minutes. Vucevic had 13 points, 10 rebounds and a team-high seven assists.
Fournier had a miserable night, shooting 2-for-14 for six points. Ross wasn't much better, scoring nine points on 2-for-12 from the field, including 0-for-4 on three.
The now 6-4 Magic wont have an opportunity to find their shooting rhythm and snap their losing streak until Wednesday when they host the New York Knicks.