Celtics fans heaved a sigh of relief tonight as the team snapped its one-game losing streak* with a persuasive win over the Orlando Magic in Boston.
“We have to play harder on offense,” Al Horford was quoted as saying in the midst of the 48-hour slump (on Friday afternoon), and indeed the Celtics did.
Kidding aside, it was an important win for the young Celtics — as vital, in some ways, as many of the victories they enjoyed during a 16-game winning skein.
Coach Brad Stevens spoke for many fans pre-game when he warned the team of a natural letdown after the win-spree ended on Wednesday in Miami…. and during an early in-game timeout when he simply admonished “move the ball and get in the paint.”
Boston raced to a 26-point halftime lead over the Magic and never looked back.
Indeed, the game provided Stevens a chance to deal with his getting-back-on-track to-do list. Celtic play started to show certain flaws as early two weeks ago, and contributed to the team’s rare loss against the Heat. The Magic helpfully provided an in-game, real-time diagnostic check.
Don’t have a post-streak letdown — ✔
The Celtics came out hard on defense and smooth on offense. If anything, they looked relieved they could just play a basketball game — every bit as tenacious as during games 1-19; just not as tight.
This was a relatively unfamiliar challenge for the Celtics: coming back after a loss. Boston showed no signs of a hangover and led nearly every statistical category except rebounding. (A slight 51-46 to the Magic was more than made up for by Boston’s edge in turnovers and shooting).
Stop digging holes — ✔
During its 16-game win streak, Boston had to overcome more than five double-digit deficits. When asked how the Celtics were able to do that, Stevens quipped, “because we keep getting behind.”
But save for about 75 seconds of brief Magic leads during the first quarter, the Celtics put away their shovel. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown teamed for most of their combined 24 points in the first quarter, which ended with a longed-for 14-point Celtic lead.
Revive the offense — ✔
Put a big check mark here. The Celtics put up 70 first-half points, and even after a second half dominated by the second unit, scored an O-rating of 129. This was against a Magic team that’s not known, for its defense, but not as terrible as the CW might have it. (Orlando came into the game ranked 18th in the league on defense per 100 possessions.)
Furthermore, the Celtic return to what Horford called “beautiful basketball” had a real feel of diversity, complementarity, or synergism — pick your term — to it.
Horford led the offense while taking only five shots, dishing out 10 assists as Point Horford instead.
Tatum was Tatum, an efficient 11 points on just 7 shots. Brown added the drive-and-kickout to his game, handing out four assists — all of them to Terry Rozier, all for 3-pointers. Kyrie Irving scored 30 points but did so almost quietly, on only 15 shots.
Get the bench unit stroking✔-
Boston’s reserves tossed in 50 points on just 37 shots.
Aaron Baynes scored 13 points on 6-9 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in 22 minutes. Terry Rozier scored a career-high 23, shooting 5 of 7 from 3-point land. The rest of the Celtics reserves, however, couldn’t find the range, shooting 4 of 17. So we’re entering only a “check-minus” here. Which brings us to….
Help Marcus Smart out of his shooting slump
(okay no check, but he did keep shooting)
Marcus Smart’s shooting has been one of the few subjects for hand-wringing this season; we gave our own advanced-stat breakdown yesterday.
Candidly, we were hoping to get some reverse-jinx karma going, but it didn’t work last night, as Smart shot one for seven.
Perhaps Rozier led and spoke by example. “You gotta keep shooting,” he said after his 8-11 performance. We’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that Rozier is just a much better shooter than Smart, and might start to impinge on him in the battle for minutes. But then we saw an alert post by a Celtics Redditor pointing out that for his career, Smart has been a slightly better shooter than Scary Terry.
In short, the Smart shooting streak didn’t end with the Celtic losing-streak snap. This, however, was perhaps a lone smudge mark on an otherwise “beautiful” night for Boston.
Coach for the next game — ✔
With the Celtics facing a tough back-to-back trip to Indiana on Saturday, the Celtics faced a premium on getting the starters some rest. (The more so given that Marcus Morris, and possibly Jaylen Brown, may not suit up.)
Check this box too. Celtics starters played just 126 minutes; the bench, 114. No Boston starter played more than Brown’s 27 minutes; Rozier, off the bench, played 30.
So chin up, Celtics fans. Your 48 hours of agony are over. Now it’s back to the challenge of playing after a win. (The Celtics are 15-1 in that situation…. another #NBAbest.)