This Magic team may never lose again.
A second contest in three nights against the league-best Celtics figured to be a tough assignment even accounting for the absence of Jayson Tatum, particularly with the action taking place away from the comforts of Central Florida. However, a brilliant individual showing by Paolo Banchero and a committed defensive effort by the entire side allowed the Magic to again stun Boston, a 95-92 victory extending the team’s win streak to six.
The game’s opening minutes were a feeling out period for both sides, the Magic prodding at the Boston defense as each of the starters got an early look at the basket. Points were difficult to come by against a tough defense, however a pair of triples to Banchero and another to Moritz Wagner eventually gave Orlando a jolt on the scoreboard.
The Magic’s lead hovered around the five-point mark, Banchero establishing himself as the team’s most effective offensive option. He was able to add to his own personal tally with some tough finishes inside the arc, while also serving as a facilitator on the perimeter when double (and triple) team coverage arrived. He finished the quarter with 11 points on 4-6 shooting (including 2-2 from deep), a quick Cole Anthony cameo in the closing minutes ensuring Orlando would lead at the first break, up 26-23 over the Celtics.
The clunkiness continued through the second for both sides, neither able to find any real traction. The teams combined to make just a single field goal and a single free throw through the quarter’s first four minutes, the Magic missing six shots but the Celtics missing seven of their own. Eventually a Marcus Smart corner three interrupted the shared shooting futility, bringing the Celtics back within a point and sending Orlando to a timeout to adjust.
It took some time, but eventually the Magic were able to get going courtesy of the return of Banchero. The Celtics snuck ahead 31-30 when Jaylen Brown cashed in an Anthony turnover, but from there Orlando’s impressive rookie took over. First he drilled a three to restore the Magic’s lead. Then, as he has done all season, he bullied his way to the hoop for a pair of free throws. He capped the sequence with a sublime stepback three, his fourth of the half on perfect shooting from deep.
Bol Bol got in on the action in the closing minutes of the half, racking up a quick 7 points of his own to briefly extend Orlando’s lead to double digits. A couple of late threes to the Celtics threatened to shrink the margin, but Banchero had one last impressive finish for the half, a jaw-dropping and-one that settled the half-time score at 50-41 in the Magic’s favor.
The first half was the Banchero show for Orlando, the rookie needing just 16 minutes to put up an absurd 22 points on 7-12 shooting, 4-4 from deep, and 4-5 from the line. He was supported by Bol with 9 points and 6 rebounds, the pair’s timely shot-making helping the Magic overcome their collective 37.5% (18-48) mark from the field.
Much of the story, though, was the side’s defensive effort. Crisp rotations and energetic shot contests contributed to Boston’s woeful accuracy from the floor, the Celtics shooting just 27.9% overall (12-43) and a frigid 20.8% from deep (5-24). If it weren’t for the free-throw advantage they enjoyed – 14 attempts to Orlando’s 9 – it would have been a more significant lead for the Magic at the main break.
Signs of life were soon evident for Boston in the third, a trio of three-pointers making up most of the deficit and drawing them within a basket of the Magic, 56-54. An uncontested three for Jaylen Brown coming out of a timeout eventually put the Celtics up by one, the exclamation mark on an 8-0 run that threatened to shift the momentum of the game.
With Orlando’s offense sputtering the team simplified things, finding baskets with decisive off-ball movement and some heads-up passing. Banchero’s fifth three of the game pushed the Magic back out by 5, but the young forward was having a more difficult run of it with the Celtics employing a swarming defense to slow him down. As Boston ramped up its defensive intensity across the board the Magic struggled, some unsightly turnovers late in the quarter fuelling an 8-0 Celtics spurt, Orlando now trailing 71-68 as the game entered the fourth.
Franz Wagner finally found a little shot luck in the final frame, finishing a pair of smooth drives playing alongside a bench-heavy lineup. He was, somewhat surprisingly, admirably supported during the stretch by Admiral Schofield, who knocked down a trio of threes and hauled in a huge defensive rebound in an important cameo that allowed the Magic to keep pace with the Celtics.
A disarming drive and soft finish in traffic from Fultz put the Magic back in front, 85-84 with 4:54 to play. Banchero’s sixth three-pointer of the game maintained that slim advantage, as did a pair of free-throws that pushed his individual tally beyond 30 points. Fultz scrambled for an offensive rebound that allowed him to find Franz for an ice-cold triple, a play that effectively negated the Celtics own long-range make at the other end.
Up 93-92 with thirty seconds remaining and in possession, Orlando looked again to Wagner and Banchero. Although neither was able to find the bottom of the basket, a pair of vital offensive rebounds – first to Kevon Harris and then another to Fultz – allowed the Magic to keep their hands on the basketball.
However, an inbounds turnover kept the result in doubt, Fultz failing to find an open man and flubbing an attempt to send the ball back out of bounds off Al Horford. It gave the Celtics a chance with less than ten seconds to play, but an inbounds turnover of their own turned into a pair of Moe Wagner free-throws that put the Magic’s cushion at three, now up 95-92.
Boston had one final look at the buzzer, a Grant Williams triple that could have tied things up. It was off the mark, however, emblematic of the Celtics’ 34.8% accuracy from the floor and 25.5% touch from deep. Instead, the Magic were able to sweep back-to-back games against the league’s best and extend their winning streak to a half-dozen games.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Paolo Banchero — unstoppable for good chunks of the game, the powerful rookie finished with 31 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals for a well-rounded contribution. Most impressively he was cooking from deep, finishing 6-7 from beyond the arc in a sublime long-range shooting performance.
Second star: Markelle Fultz — by the boxscore it wasn’t always the best showing for the team’s starting point guard, but his heroics in the final few minutes helped the team slam the door shut and extend their winning ways. Two enormous offensive rebounds, a pinpoint helper for Franz’s dagger, and a victory-sealing steal is a nice way to close a game out.
Third star: Admiral Schofield — was the team’s second-highest scorer, his fourth quarter burst pushing his personal tally to 13 points on 5-7 shooting (3-5 from deep), to go along with 3 rebounds and a steal. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Magic likely miss out on the win without his late contributions.
The Magic will have a chance to go for seven straight in just 24 hours time, with the second half of a road back-to-back taking place in Atlanta. Be sure to join us back here when the game tips off!