The Celtics showed no signs of a Thanksgiving hangover, cooking the Orlando Magic 118-103 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Boston hopes this is the start of a new winning streak but will have to follow it up with a road back-to-back against Indiana. The Magic looked over-matched from the opening tip, giving up a Celtics’ season high 40-point first quarter.
The Celtics debuted their new alternate jersey with a primarily black design. I would say that maybe they should stick with it if they’re going to play this well, but they’ve played this well no matter what color they wear. The Celtics hit the quarter pole at 17-3 and comfortably clear at the top of the Eastern Conference; a nice accomplishment for a team that we all expected to start slow even before they lost Gordon Hayward.
1st Half Offense
Boston has made the low scoring first half a trademark as Kyrie eases the team into the game before he takes over late. The Celtics hung 73 on the Magic in the first half tonight. Irving led a balanced attack scoring throughout while Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Aron Baynes each had a spurt of their own. Any time you crack 70 in a half it means a lot of things went right, but Boston moved the ball very crisply, leading to a procession of open threes.
When they did miss, they were quick to the glass, tipping out a number of offensive boards and then outworking the Magic for a loose ball. They even got the benefit of some accidental offense when an errant Marcus Smart alley-oop managed to end in a wide open corner three. Sometimes it’s just your night. After an early season of offensive struggles masked by a ferocious defense, it looked like a lot of C’s were reveling in an opportunity to fill it up.
Good luck Evan Fournier pic.twitter.com/sQJTWBhOkV
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) November 25, 2017
Al Horford, Point Center
The Godfather opened the game with six assists in the first six minutes and cruised to matching his career high with ten on the night. He easily would have broken it if the game had been close but with a back-to-back coming, Stevens took the opportunity to rest him for the final frame. Brad Stevens has the luxury of playing some match-up games right from the tap. We’ve seen him toggle between Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes as the fifth starter. Tonight he went with Baynes, forcing Nikola Vucevic to guard Horford. It seemed a clear strategy to exploit that matchup from the off, not by stretching Al out to three for shooting opportunities but by making him a facilitator.
It’s mildly concerning that Al had his fourth straight single-digit scoring game, but when the team is pouring in points like they did it’s not a bad trade-off. The Magic are trying to play small with Aaron Gordon at PF and only one of Vucevic or Bismack Biyombo on the court and yet Horford is still a problem when Stevens sets up the team like this.
After a bright start to the season, Rozier had run into a rough patch. The Celtics reserve guards had become the worst shooting group in the league and while Marcus Smart draws most of the attention for that, Rozier’s struggles certainly played a part. Tonight he looked confident shooting the ball, setting a new career high with 23 points on 8-11 shooting. His previous high was only 16, but he now has six of the top-10 highest scoring games in his career just this season.
As usual, he also hit the glass gathering six rebounds. He’s had five or more rebounds in 11 of his 20 game, a great number for a 6’2″ reserve guard. I also thought he played well on defense, though Orlando’s point guards don’t carry a ton of offensive threat. It was nice to see Terry reverse his recent slump. He’s an important part of a Celtics bench that will probably continue to struggle to score all season.
The Orlando Magic as an Early Season Surprise
Orlando jumped out to a 6-2 start to the season but have quickly fallen back to earth, now losing seven straight. That start was an obvious mirage. The team was shooting outrageously well from three and their opponents were missing everything. They’re now in a period where that’s over-correcting; they aren’t as trash of shooters as they showed tonight and Boston won’t light it up like this all that often.
I have no idea where they really are. Their record of 8-11 seems about right, but even that is more from veterans doing a job than high upside young talent. Jonathan Isaac has had some moments so it’s hard to judge them too much, but it doesn’t look great. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are restricted free agents this summer. A team in their spot feels an obligation to pay them, but I’m not sure how you improve once you’re paying them the full market rate.
The entire fourth quarter was functionally garbage time but boy, did Boston act like they knew it. They took a series of bad threes on offense and lost Mo Speights on defense multiple times. A 30 point lead quickly dropped to 16 and it looked like they were a few possessions from the starters re-entering. Rozier did just enough to keep that from happening. Smart had played a nice game through three quarters despite, or because of, only taking two shots. In the fourth he started jacking up triples and not coming close on most of them.
It was just an ugly quarter. NBA players know how this works and it wasn’t particularly surprising to see, but it’s hard to come up with three “downs” on a night where the team basically cruises so this is one.
Semi Ojeleye, 3-and-D
The stout rookie continues to impress on defense but his shooting just isn’t there at the moment. He went 1-7 from 3PT tonight, dropping his season average all the way to 26.3%. The team is asking very little of him on offense but so far he hasn’t been able to do even that. Coach Stevens has talked about how his current focus on adding the “3” part to “3-and-D” and there’s clearly a ways to go.
Semi looked very confident shooting the ball in Summer League and preseason but the real games have been a different story. Even with the poor shooting he’s been a pleasant surprise and useful contributor, but knocking down spot-up threes will be what makes or breaks his career. His 38 shot sample isn’t enough to draw any conclusions, and I like that he’s willing to take them and knows his place on the team, but it would do him, and the second unit, a world of good if a few start falling.
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