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Boston 124, Orlando 97: Outside shooting proves to be the difference (again) for short-handed Magic

NBA: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylen Brown scored a team-high 21 points and dished out 8 assists, leading the Boston Celtics to a 124-97 victory over the Orlando Magic in the TD Garden Friday night.

Friday marked Boston’s first game in exactly a week after the Celtics saw three of their previous games cancelled due to COVID protocols (and a lack of available players).

Jeff Teague added 17 points for the Celtics, starting for Boston due to Jayson Tatum missing the contest (COVID Health & Safety protocols), and Kemba Walker yet to make his season debut (knee).

It was another dreadful offensive performance for the shorthanded Magic, who failed to eclipse the 50-point mark in either half of Friday’s contest, shooting 40 percent from the floor (38 for 94 FGA’s) while missing eight free throws (14 for 22 FTA’s, 63.6 percent).

“It’s purpose of play,” Magic head coach Steve Clifford said, when asked about his team’s struggles shooting the basketball. “I’ll share with you what I just said to them (in the locker room). I thought this morning was our worst - in terms of being attentive - that we’ve been in a ballroom walkthrough or shootaround all year. That was my note, I make notes after every practice, every walkthrough, every shootaround. And the thing I put this morning is, we better play tonight (with more interest) than we showed in the walkthrough this morning.”

The Magic, already playing without seven players, dug themselves in an early hole by turning the ball over four times in the game’s opening four minutes (which led to six early Celtics points).

Rookie point guard Cole Anthony came to play Friday night, knocking-down his first four shots from the field en route to nine points in eight first quarter minutes of action.

Backup center Khem Birch helped keep the Magic in the game early, scoring six of his 12 points in the first quarter (all second chance points), including a put-back at the horn off a Ross missed jumper to close the opening period.

A three-point field goal by Payton Pritchard stopped a 9-0 Magic run to open the second quarter. Pritchard, another rookie point guard from this past year’s draft class, scored eight consecutive Celtics points to help Boston reclaim control in the first half. A Pritchard reverse layup with just under five minutes remining in the half gave Boston their first double-digit lead.

Brown went to work when he returned to the game in the second quarter, knocking down three free throws after getting fouled in the left corner, an additional technical free throw, and a three point field goal from the top of the key in transition.

The Magic were outscored 26-20 in the second quarter, shooting 25 percent (6 for 24) from the field.

Dwayne Bacon led Orlando’s offensive charge with seven points in the early moments of the third quarter, six of those coming off strong finishes in the paint.

Momentum shifted again when Pritchard proceeded to hit a three point field goal from the left corner. The rookie manufactured four more points off back-to-back assists on Boston’s next two possessions, pushing the Celtics lead to fifteen points.

“He’s a good player,” Clifford told reporters of Pritchard. “We had three days off, so I watched a ton of film. And he’s super skilled, he’s got a high I.Q., and he was actually one of the guys we talked about and circled this morning. He’s a good player.”

Anthony exited the game with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter after stumbling with the ball while driving to the basket. The New York native’s head collided with Daniel Theis’ hip while both players were reaching for a loose ball (Orlando’s starting point guard did return late in the game). The Magic are already playing without Markelle Fultz (knee injury, out for year) and Michael Carter-Williams (foot injury).

Boston jumped out on a 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter, all but ending the contest with over nine minutes to spare.

If there was one positive silver-lining Friday night for Orlando-based Magic fans, it was that UCF product and Boston big man Tacko Fall got some extended run in garbage time. Fall scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in eight minutes in the fourth.

Once again, the difference in outside shooting between the Magic and their opponent was a deciding factor in the game. Orlando, who sits 29th in the league in three-point field goal percentage, shot 7 for 28 (25 percent) from beyond the arc. Conversely, the Celtics knocked-down 17 three-point field goals (17 for 42, 40.5 percent), a net difference of thirty points in the game.

“With the guys that are out right now, we’re very much challenged offensively,” Clifford added after the game. “That means we have to execute (better), we have to play with purpose, and we can’t give possessions away.”

Aaron Gordon led the way for the Magic with 17 points (5 for 12 FGA’s, 3 for 5 3PTA’s). Anthony, Bacon, and Vucevic chipped-in with 15 points apiece.

Pritchard finished with 16 points in 25 minutes off Boston’s bench. Semi Ojeleye scored a season-high 18 points (6 for 10 FGA’s, 3 for 6 3PTA’s).

The Magic have to turnaround and play again in less than 24 hours, this time against Kevin Durant, newly acquired James Harden, (possibly?) Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets. Such is life in the NBA in 2020-21.