The NBA schedule-makers did the Orlando Magic no favors, pairing the young team (on the second night of a back-to-back) with the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics to open their 2022-23 home schedule.
In front of a sellout crowd Saturday night (19,299 announced, fifth-largest crowd ever at the Amway Center), Orlando gave the title contenders all they could handle, before eventually falling to Boston late - 126-120.
Jayson Tatum and Derrick White combined to score eight of Boston’s final ten points in the game (within the last two minutes) to help push the Celtics past the Magic.
“That is an elite (Boston) team,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game. “There’s a reason they went to the Finals last year. They’re physical, they’re tough, they’re tied together. So, give them a ton of credit.”
With All-Star Jaylen Brown suffering through an off-shooting night (4 for 16 FGA’s, 12 points), the Celtics needed someone else to step-up against the Magic, and that player was White (in a big way). The sixth-year guard tallied a season-high 27 points, the most he has scored as a member of the Celtics.
Tatum was easily the best player on the floor to begin the game, getting anything he wanted against a scrambling Orlando defense. The All-Star forward scored nine points within the first five minutes of the game, knocking down six of his first seven shots in the first quarter.
15 of Tatum’s game-high 40 points (14 for 21 FGA’s, 4 for 10 3PTA’s) came in the opening period.
For the Magic, Cole Anthony set the tone early - diving on the floor for loose balls, deflecting passes, and ripping the ball away from bigger opponents.
Neither team was shy about letting it fly from beyond the arc early in the game. The Magic and Celtics combined to go 13 for 27 (48%) on three-point field goal attempts through the game’s first twelve minutes.
One player that did have somewhat of an auspicious start to the game was Orlando rookie Paolo Banchero. The first overall pick - making his regular season home debut at the Amway Center - missed seven of his first eight attempts from the floor in the first half.
Two somewhat unlikely reserves came off the bench in the first half Saturday and provided significant lifts for their respective teams. For the Celtics, forward Sam Hauser scored 9 points in the second quarter, connecting on three of his four three-point attempts.
And for the Magic, Bol Bol provided a defensive spark - blocking three shots while pulling down four rebounds - all in in the second quarter. In 15 minutes, Bol finished the game with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots.
Boston came out of intermission on a 10-3 run, forcing Mosley to burn a timeout just 90 seconds into the second half.
Orlando was able to steady themselves following the timeout, scoring 17 of the next 25 points to reclaim the lead. The second half charge was led by veteran wing Terrence Ross, who in the past has made a habit of playing well against the Celtics as a member of the Magic. 10 of his 29 points came in the third quarter, highlighted by a second chance three-point make from the left-wing off another incredible diving hustle play by Anthony to keep a ball alive that was sailing out of bounds.
“Terrence has been incredible,” Mosley told reporters. “He’s been a pro - talking to these guys, showing up every day and putting the work in. Helping these guys understand the ups-and-downs within a season. He’s been absolutely incredible for these guys, and the way he’s approached the game.”
“I know playing out there with the first unit, they’re going to try and lock-in on Franz (Wagner), they’re going to try and lock-in on Paolo,” Ross said after the game. “I feel when I’m out there, I can give those guys a little more space to try and operate. So, I’m trying to just do a good job getting into those windows, trying to make myself available.”
Scoring the final five points of the third quarter (Orlando went almost three minutes without scoring to close out the period), Boston took a 99-94 lead to the final period.
The Magic netted 10 of the first 15 points scored in the fourth to tie the game, behind a Banchero turn-around jumper from the right baseline, followed by a Bol blocked shot on the following defensive possession. Orlando failed to secure another deflection a couple of defensive possessions later, which ultimately led to a Grant Williams three-point field goal from the left corner.
As they did in the first half, the Magic got another huge lift from a reserve late in the second half Saturday, as forward Chuma Okeke buried a three-point field goal from the left corner midway through the fourth quarter, and then hustled to grab an offensive rebound during Orlando’s next offensive possession - which led to a Bol dunk off a beautiful lob from Anthony.
A converted driving layup by White, who was also fouled on the play, put the Celtics up by five points with just over three minutes remaining in the game. Another White drive moments later, which resulted in a dunk, gave the Celtics a cushion they would not relinquish.
The Magic were able to clean up some problems at home that plagued the team earlier this week both in Detroit and Atlanta, namely live-ball turnovers and fouling too often on defense. But in the end, it still wasn’t enough to top one of the elite teams in the NBA.
All five Orlando starters scored in double-figures, led by Ross. Banchero scored 23 points (6 for 19 FGA’s, 2 for 7 3PTA’s), becoming only the fourth first overall pick in the history of the NBA to eclipse 20 points over the rookie’s first three professional games.
“We’ve been battling every game. Everyone has been fighting, playing for each other,” Banchero said after the game when asked about his team’s performance. “We’re playing as a team. Everyone’s playing to win, so that’s encouraging. (Now) we just have to do the little things down the stretch to get the win.”
Franz Wagner added 18 points, and center Wendell Carter Jr. recorded his second double-double of the season (15 points and 12 rebounds).
Of course, the Magic were playing without guard Jalen Suggs, who left Friday’s game with a right ankle injury. The team announced before Saturday’s contest that Suggs suffered a sprained ankle (per an MRI taken) and his return will depend on “how he responds to treatment”.
The fans inside Amway Center Saturday didn’t get to see their beloved team come away with their first win of the season, but that doesn’t mean Magic players and coaches didn’t notice their enthusiasm.
“Our fans were absolutely amazing,” Mosley reiterated after the game Saturday. “I think they willed these guys (to come through) in so many different situations. This game could have gone sideways really quick, but our guys felt that energy in the building. You hear the chants; our guys feel that.”
Orlando will now get back on a plane for two more road games in New York and Cleveland before heading back to City Beautiful to take on Steve Clifford and the Charlotte Hornets next weekend.