A national television audience, to some degree, got a false impression of the Orlando Magic.
The Magic’s strengths are typically defense and protecting the ball, and they did neither very well in their 116-100 loss to the Celtics while playing on ESPN in their lone nationally televised game of the season.
To be fair to the Orlando defense, while Jayson Tatum scored 33 points, he did hit many contested shots. Overall, though, the Magic allowed a Celtics team playing without notorious Magic killer, Kemba Walker, to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and from three.
At the other end of the court, the Magic were also uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball. They entered averaging the fewest turnovers a game at just over 12 per, but committed 17 against the Celtics, causing the offense to stall at times. An offensively challenged team like Orlando simply can’t afford to give away possessions, particularly against an elite team like the Celtics.
In the first quarter, the Magic defense allowed the Celtics to shoot over 63 percent from the field. That included an 8-0 Celtics run, capped by a Grant Williams three to open a 28-19 Boston lead with 1:15 left in the quarter. The Magic were sloppy with the ball with four turnovers in the quarter, which Steve Clifford addressed in his in-game interview, saying if the turnovers were to continue, the Magic would have no chance to win the game.
Michael Carter-Williams, by attacking the rim on one end and playing aggressive defense at the other, helped the Magic chip away at the 32-24 lead Boston carried into the second quarter. MCW scored the first four points of the quarter for the Magic and then found Terrence Ross for three to cut the lead to 37-31. Later, following a Fournier three and a put-back slam by Mo Bamba, Carter-Williams - who finished the half with eight points, four assists, two steals and a block - hit a five-footer to pull the Magic within two at 42-40.
That was when Aaron Gordon took over.
Gordon scored 11 points in a 3:52 span, capped by a four-point play to trim the Celtics lead to 53-51. On the ensuing possession, Gordon grabbed the defensive rebound, pushed the ball down court and found Fultz in transition for a layup that evened the score at 53 with 2:10 left in the half.
The Magic, who had eight turnovers in the half and trailed 57-56 at the break, shot 54.1 percent in the half, including 50 percent from three (6 of 12). Gordon finished the half with 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting, while Fournier added 11, making all three of his three-point attempts. Ross added eight, hitting a pair of threes, including the 1,000th of his career.
The Celtics outshot the Magic in the half, shooting 56.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep. Tatum led the way with 17 and Brown had 12. Oh, and there was a 1.6 second cameo at the end of the half by Tacko Fall.
The Magic regained the lead on a Wes Iwundu three that made it 62-60 with 9:33 left in the third. It wouldn’t last long thanks in part to Gordon Hayward, who scored 12 points in the third quarter. Eight of those points came against the Magic second unit in a one-minute span late in the quarter to help the Celtics build an eight-point lead. Tatum then worked his way into the paint and converted a lefty layup at the buzzer to send the Celtics into the fourth up 87-80.
Tatum continued to hit some tough, tightly-contested shots in the fourth. He scored 10 straight for the Celtics at one point, capped by a step-back three to increase the Celtics’ lead to 99-91 with 6:53 to go. The Magic quickly cut the lead to five, but from there, the Celtics blew it open.
Tatum, finished with 33 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. The 21-year-old reached the 30-point mark for the seventh time in his career, shooting 11-for-24 from the field, including 5-for-11 from three. Hayward had 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Brown added 18 and Williams (3-for-4 from three) had 13 off the bench as the Celtics shot 53.5 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from three (13-23).
Fournier led the Magic with 26, making a season high six threes on eight attempts. Gordon, who went 8 of 10 from the line, finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Nikola Vucevic was quiet with 12 points and 10 rebounds. As was Markelle Fultz, who followed up his 14-assist performance with four points and five assists. MCW finished with 12 points and six assists. Ross added 18 but again struggled from the field, shooting 5-for-16 (3 of 9 from three).
Mo Bamba, who played seven first-half minutes, did not play in the second half. Clifford said after the game that Bamba struggled to keep up with the Celtics’s speed and physicality and he was held out to give the Magic the best chance to win. Yikes.
The game was closer that the final score indicated, and it was a decent performance for the Magic on national TV. Overall, ESPN announcers Mike Breen and Hubie Brown, as well as Brad Stevens and Tatum in their in-game and postgame interviews, were complimentary of the Magic. Stevens and Tatum acknowledged the Magic’s physicality, while Breen and Brown at times highlighted Fultz’s comeback season, Gordon’s aggressiveness, MCW’s play, and the Magic’s defense.
The Magic complete their three-game road trip on Thursday as they complete a back-to-back with a match-up against the Knicks.