Boston Celtics: Orlando Magic
THE NITTY GRITTY
Jeff Green lived at the free throw line in the second half and scored a team-high 22 points (13 of 15 at the stripe), but a late miss helped Orlando generate the winning points as Boston fell for the 14th time in its last 16 games. Kris Humphries added 18 points and 12 rebounds, but got whistled for a loose-ball foul late that helped Orlando emerge. Avery Bradley added 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting, but got caught with the ball in the final seconds and couldn't get off a shot that could have forced overtime. Arron Afflalo scored a team-high 20 points for Orlando, while adding 13 rebounds and six assists, and Tobias Harris added 18 points, including the winning freebies with 10.1 seconds to play. Old friend Glen Davis registered 17 points and seven rebounds for the Magic.
In his second game back off ACL surgery, Rondo played 21 minutes, 20 seconds. He was 3-of-10 shooting for six points with six rebounds, four assists, a steal and three turnovers. He hit a big jumper that had the Celtics out front with 1:16 to go, but it wasn't enough.
The last 18 minutes were a nauseating seesaw ride with neither team leading by more than four. The entire fourth quarter, in fact, was a one-possession game. The Celtics were down two with 35 seconds to go when Brad Stevens drew up a pretty little lob play in which Green took an arcing inbound feed from Gerald Wallace and muscled in a hoop while being fouled. He missed the free throw, however, and Orlando scrambled to call a (questionable) timeout after referees deemed them to have corralled a loose ball on the floor. Humphries got whistled for a loose-ball foul with 10.1 seconds to go on the other end and Harris made a pair of freebies. Boston never got off a final shot.
Rookie Vitor Faverani and newcomers Joel Anthony and Chris Johnson were healthy DNPs for Boston. ... The Celtics again did a nice job of limiting the damage off their turnovers, giving up just seven points off 10 giveaways. Orlando turned the ball over 17 times for 20 points. ... The Celtics shot a gruesome 36.7 percent from the floor (33 of 90) and just 23.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc (3 of 13). ... Jerryd Bayless departed in the third quarter with a sprained toe on his left foot.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (14-28) are tied with Utah for the fourth-worst record in the league (only Milwaukee, Orlando and Philadelphia are worse). Boston takes Monday off before launching into a back-to-back against the Heat (Tuesday) and Wizards (Wednesday) to wrap up their three-game road trip. The Celtics return home with games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Brooklyn Nets on a brief stop back at TD Garden.
Bayless appeared to suffer the injury midway through the third quarter and asked out of the game, immediately retreating to the locker room with team trainer Ed Lacerte.
Bayless, acquired earlier this month from the Memphis Grizzlies, had four points and two rebounds over 8 ½ minutes before his night ended. His absence leaves Boston thin in the backcourt given that starting point guard Rajon Rondo, playing his second game of the season Sunday, still is on a minute restriction.
After Bayless departed, the Celtics put Gerald Wallace at a guard spot next to backup point guard Phil Pressey.
- HOW DOES RONDO RESPOND?: The Celtics took Saturday off while flying to Orlando for the start of a three-game road trip. Maybe most intriguing on Sunday is how Rajon Rondo responds after making his 2013-14 season debut after a yearlong absence while rehabbing from a torn ACL. The Celtics limited Rondo to 20 total minutes in Friday's loss to the Lakers, and it's unclear how long the team will stick with a minute restriction (or ramp him up over time). Rondo admitted after Friday's game that he's unsure how the team will tackle upcoming back-to-backs (like in Washington on Wednesday after Tuesday's game in Miami). "It's still open," said Rondo. "I think it depends on me and how I’m feeling after the Miami game. It's been almost a year after my surgery, so its not like I’ve been rushed or I’m playing within six months. [On Friday,] I felt fine and obviously it will be a different story [Saturday]. We will see how I feel, not just my knee but my entire body."
- MAGIC AT A GLANCE: The Magic have lost 10 in a row and rank 26th in defensive rating, 19th in offensive rating, and 27th overall in net efficiency (the only teams worse in net rating: Bucks, 76ers, Jazz). So what does Orlando do well? They do get after defensive rebounds (ninth in league in defensive rebound percentage). And watch Orlando in the mid-range, the Magic lead the league in percentage of total field goals generated from that zone.
- LOOSE BALLS: This is the third of four meetings this season. Boston won 91-89 in Orlando in early November, then posted a 120-105 triumph over the Magic in Boston three days later. The two teams wrap up the season series on Feb. 2 in Boston. ... Feb. 2 would, of course, be the day of the Super Bowl and the Celtics play what's becoming an annual matinee that day. The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos meet this afternoon in the AFC Championship game (and there might be just a few more eyes on that game at tip-off tonight for C's. ... Arron Afflalo is back after missing three games with a strained right foot, but the Magic are expected to be without center Nikola Vucevic due to a concussion.
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“Same guys," he said. "And I don’t think, actually, we were that far in a couple of those games that we [lost]. Obviously, the Milwaukee game we really played well for most of the game. The way that I always say it when we walked back into the locker room, we looked like a basketball team. There have been other games, specifically in the preseason, where we didn’t look like a basketball team. But how far we’ve come since October 1st, we’ve made good strides, we’ve made the right strides. But we have a long way to go and there’s a lot of things to improve."
Even after a thorough offensive effort as his Celtics took down the Magic 120-105 on Monday, Stevens pledged to get right back to work as Boston navigates a game-heavy November. Stevens stressed that more improvements are needed to maintain this success.
"[Stevens' players] haven’t learned a lot about me, but I hope they’ve learned that I’m going to go back to work tonight and I hope I’m going to try to make us a little bit better tomorrow," said Stevens. "That’s all we can do. You ride this emotional roller coaster if you don’t. All of the sudden, we’re 4-4 and we’ve got the whole world figured out when in essence that was only seven days ago when we were 0-4. This thing can turn quick and, with our schedule as it continues this month, it can turn real quick. So we’ve just got to focus on day to day, game to game to see how good you can be on that night and know that you always have a chance to win or get beat."
Read on for a few more leftover notes from Monday's win:
Crawford did that with flare on Monday, often twirling his way to fancy dishes or passing up an open shot to feed a teammate for an easy basket at the rim. The 25-year-old Crawford produced only the fourth double-digit assist game of his career, adding 16 points (on 7-of-12 shooting), five rebounds and a steal over 32 minutes 36 seconds of floor time. He was plus-15 in plus/minus.
The Celtics are 4-0 since Crawford was inserted into the starting lineup to add a ball-handler next to Avery Bradley. Billed as a shoot-first guard throughout his career, Crawford was asked if he likes playing point this season.
"I feel that I’m a point guard," Crawford said. "That’s other people that listed me at shooting guard."
Crawford's impact on Boston's offense is undeniable. Over the past four games, the Celtics own an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 109.3 when he's on the court; it drops eight points when he's off the floor. The downside is an uptick in the team's defensive rating (104.4 when Crawford is on the court; 93.7 when he's off), but it's hard to argue with the end result, particularly with how well Bradley has played with Crawford next to him.
One other monster benefit of having Crawford on the floor as a ball-handling presence: Boston's turnover rate has plummeted. The Celtics were the worst team in the league in turnover percentage while dropping their first four games. In the four wins since, Boston's turnover rate drops to 13 percent when Crawford is on the floor -- it's still up at 18 percent for the season.
"I think he’s really doing a great job," coach Brad Stevens said. "He’s got a lot of confidence out there. He’s always been a guy that had good confidence about him, but I think the thing that I’ve been most pleased with through really the entire time I’ve been around him is his consistency. That’s an area in which you have to really embrace if you’re going to be a good point guard because everybody’s depending on you to be reliable on a day-to-day basis."
Stevens noted how he phoned Crawford during Sunday's offday (oh, to hear that conversation!) and spoke of how Monday's game was the team's biggest of the season coming off a thrilling (but flawed) win in Miami. During pregame warm-ups, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge slung his arm around Crawford's shoulders and imparted some friendly advice.
Crawford responded to the challenge and his evolving game isn't lost on his teammates.
"I think he’s more mature," Jeff Green said. "I know he had a bad rep coming from the Wizards [as] just a one-way player. Now he’s learning the game. He’s playing both ends. He’s bigger than a lot of guards so he can shoot right over them. And he has the mentality to turn it on when need be."
How does Brad Stevens explain how a team that ranked among the least efficient offenses in the league entering Monday's game shot that well, putting seven players in double figures?
"One of those days," shrugged Stevens.
Making it all the more impressive, Orlando entered as one of the league's top defensive teams, as opponents were shooting 40.3 percent (second lowest in the NBA). Boston had shot just 35.8 percent against the Magic in Orlando on Friday night (and had to scrap its way to a win). A glimpse of Boston's Zone Chart on Monday via ESPN Stats and Info:
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, whose team has lost to Boston twice in four days, joked after the game, "I think Brad should send me a fruit basket."
Oh, like the Magic need to watch the Celtics produce another basket.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Just three days after out-uglying the Magic in Orlando while shooting 35.8 percent from the floor, the Celtics blistered the floor while scoring a season-high 120 points on 60 percent shooting (51-of-85), the best percentage of any team this season. The Celtics put seven players in double figures (including all five starters), led by Avery Bradley with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting over 29 minutes. Jordan Crawford added 16 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds while spearheading the offense from his point guard position.
The Magic were within a possession with just less than eight minutes to go in the third quarter, but Bradley quickly gave Boston some breathing room. He had back-to-back layups with a steal sandwiched in between, then got to the charity stripe for two freebies. Bradley made it eight consecutive points for the Celtics with a 20-foot pull-up jumper and a Brandon Bass slam dunk soon after pushed Boston's lead to double figures at 75-64 with 5:46 to play in the frame. The Celtics pushed that lead as high as 18 early in the fourth quarter.
Boston had one of its more efficient nights beyond the 3-point arc, connecting on 5-of-12 attempts (41.7 percent). ... The Celtics kept their turnovers manageable (15 for 17 points). ... Boston's best player in terms of plus/minus? Gerald Wallace, who missed the only shot he put up and finished with one point, five rebounds and three assists in 19:25.
WHAT IT MEANS
If the Celtics (4-4) are tanking, they're terrible at it. Boston pushed its win streak to four games and is at .500 for the season. Combined with Philadelphia's loss to the Spurs, Boston is now tied with the 76ers atop the Atlantic Division. We'll say it again: This team is a lot of fun to watch. It remains to be seen if they can maintain this sort of competitiveness, but they've given themselves a chance to win every time out and are improving with each game. The Celtics have two games left on this homestand with visits from Charlotte (Wednesday) and Portland (Friday) ahead.
Olynyk bumped fellow rookie Vitor Faverani from the first unit on Saturday in Miami and played well. Despite shooting 36.9 percent from the floor this season, you can see Olynyk getting more comfortable on the floor and coach Brad Stevens is confident those shots will fall soon.
"It’s not just idea of what [Olynyk has] done, statistically, [but] being able to run a lot through him. He really knows how to play, can really pass," said Stevens. "Obviously, he’s a threat to shoot it more than he’s made shots. That’s why I’m not worried about him making shots. I’ve always subscribed to the law of averages, and so he’s got a bunch of makes coming. But he is a good basketball player and, offensively, it makes us more versatile on the floor."
Olynyk gets the unenviable task of guarding Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who started fast in Friday's matchup and finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds over 36 minutes.
One prevalent theme from Stevens and players in the locker room: While Boston is playing better ball after winning three straight, there's still plenty of room for improvement, particularly on the defensive end.
"I think there’s so much room to improve and I told our guys that today when we got together -- the last thing we can do is think that [Miami win] was anything more than we found a way to win in a game where we shot almost 60 percent from the field," said Stevens. "Because we really didn’t guard well enough to win that game 99 out of 100 times."
- WE MEET AGAIN: It's been a whole three days since these two teams last saw each other in Orlando. Let's hope this game is a little crisper. The two sides combined to shoot 37.6 percent from the floor on Friday, but Boston benefitted from solid defense and ball security (the Magic turned the ball over 20 times for 25 points).
- BUILDING ON MOMENTUM: The Celtics have won three in a row and the Orlando visit marks the start of their first extended homestand (three games). How does a young team respond to growing confidence? As Stevens is quick to point out, every game is going to be a battle for his squad, which has seemingly overcome a double-digit deficit in every game this season. Will Saturday's thrilling win in Miami give Boston an early jolt on Monday?
- HUMP IN FOCUS: Kris Humphries continues to do good things when he's on the floor and is now a team-best plus-27 in plus/minus in 46 minutes of floor time. What's more, he has the best overall rebound (17.7) and defensive (25) percentages on the team. All that still might not be enough to crack the rotation quite yet, but it's a nice luxury to have when another big is in foul trouble or underperforming.
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- RIVALRY REINTERPRETED: Well, this feels different. Every visit to Miami used to be a big deal in recent seasons, especially when there was a sense that the two teams would cross paths again in the playoffs. With Boston navigating a murky transition period, a joust with the two-time defending champs loses a bit of its luster (particularly a random Saturday night matchup in November). Boston did its part by winning its last two games to spice things up a bit (and Miami has won three straight).
- TOO HOT TO HANDLE? Miami ranks second in the league in offensive rating (109.1), and its Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can put up points in a hurry. The Celtics will lean hard on a defense that climbed to eighth in the league in defensive rating (97.3) after Friday's win in Orlando. But playing the second night of a back-to-back during a travel-heavy week will add a wrinkle of difficulty for Boston.
- MISTAKE-FREE BASKETBALL: The Celtics were rather atrocious offensively Friday in Orlando (35.8 percent shooting) but still managed to escape with the win after taking care of the basketball (only 11 turnovers for eight points) and limiting second-chance opportunities (Magic grabbed 16 offensive rebounds but were held to 10 second-chance points). Jordan Crawford deserves a lot of the credit for slowing things down and helping Boston value the ball, taking a great deal of ballhandling responsibility off Avery Bradley.
- WHAT ELSE? Jeff Green erupted for 43 points versus the Heat at the Garden in March (it lit his late-season fuse). Despite a rather nondescript start to the 2013-14 campaign, Green is vital to any success Boston will enjoy this season. Green does lead the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game this season. ... The Celtics were 2-of-14 shooting beyond the arc Friday. Through six games, Boston is shooting 26.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc. ... The Celtics are wrapping up a trip that featured five games in five cities over seven days.
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And therein lies the secret to Boston's little two-game winning streak over the past three days: late fourth-quarter execution. The Celtics haven't been perfect -- far from it -- but they clearly learned from those four losses and have found a way to make enough plays to win the past two games.
With that in mind, here are five plays in particular from the final minutes of Friday's 91-89 triumph over the Orlando Magic that deserve some additional attention:
- STEEZ PLEASES: Stevens called Jordan Crawford a "calming presence" during the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over the Utah Jazz. On Friday, Crawford's late-game actions left Stevens suggesting he was "the most excited I've been since I moved to Boston." The play that fired him up? A timeout. With the Celtics up 5 with 4 minutes to play, Jameer Nelson missed a 3-pointer and Avery Bradley stripped rookie Victor Oladipo soon after he hauled in the offensive rebound. The ball trickled loose in front of the Boston bench and Crawford crashed to the floor to corral it -- with both he and Stevens adamantly calling timeout the moment he gained possession. Boston ultimately squandered the offensive possession coming out of the stoppage, but it was a heads-up play to simply ensure the Celtics kept the ball at a crucial juncture.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/John RaouxJordan Crawford has provided a "calming presence" for the Celtics, according to coach Brad Stevens.
Analysis: The Celtics are 2-0 since Crawford entered the starting backcourt. Boston's offense gets a jolt with him on the floor, but most importantly, the turnover percentage has plummeted (a mere 12.2 percent when he's on the floor the past two games). In fact, plays like this show that Crawford is saving possessions instead of giving them away.
Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 91-89 on Friday night at the Amway Center:
THE NITTY GRITTY
You'll hear the word "scrappy" used to describe this one (it's the polite way to say "ugly"). The Celtics shot 35.8 percent (34-of-95 overall) and the Magic weren't much better (39.8 percent) but turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 25 Boston points. The two teams combined for a ridiculous 35 offensive rebounds, which translated to an impossibly low 20 second-chance points (10 apiece). Regardless, the Celtics were down 12 early in the second quarter and -- keeping with the theme of the 2013-14 season -- rallied back. Following the more recent trend, they made some key plays down the stretch to win their second straight. Brandon Bass led six Boston players in double figures with 16 points, while Avery Bradley had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. Arron Afflalo scored a game-high 23 points for the Magic.
The Celtics were clinging to a two-point lead with under 3 minutes to play when Jeff Green -- quiet for much of the night outside of a couple loud dunks -- swooped in for a well-timed putback. Bass blocked a shot at the other end and Jordan Crawford got a layup in transition as Boston led 86-80 with 2:32 to go. Some ill-timed shooting fouls helped Orlando make things interesting, with the Magic pulling within one with 26 ticks to go. Bass hit a couple pressure-cooker free throws, which were huge when Afflalo had his feet on the line while trying to tie the game from the corner with 4.6 seconds to go. Orlando fouled, Bradley made only one freebie, but rookie Victor Oladipo missed a 3-point heave at the buzzer.
C's WIN IT WITH DEFENSE, BALL SECURITY
The Celtics turned the ball over only 11 times for eight points. Combine that with some stifling defense and it allowed Boston to emerge despite its 35.8 percent clip from the floor (and 14.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc).
Crawford was a team-best plus-11 in plus/minus, turning in 13 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds over 30:36. ... Gerald Wallace was at the opposite end of the spectrum in a reserve role, finishing minus-13 on a foul-plagued night in which he finished with 2 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists over 19:52. ... Keith Bogans did not play and left the bench in the second quarter due to illness. ... Even with rookie Kelly Olynyk in foul trouble, Kris Humphries played only 52 seconds late in the first half. .... MarShon Brooks earned another DNP (his fifth in six games).
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics are streaking. After four tough-luck losses to start the season, the team is finding a way to make plays down the stretch now. It wasn't always pretty, but it's a win and a chance for a young team to grow additional confidence. Boston plays the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday in Miami. That will cap a stretch of five games in seven nights in five cities. Boston gets some home cooking next week with three consecutive games at TD Garden -- starting Monday versus Orlando.
- MAGIC MAN: After winning a mere 20 games last season, the Magic have started strong (winning three straight against the Pelicans, Nets, and Clippers). Brad Stevens thinks rookie Victor Oladipo is a big reason for that success. "If he wasn’t the best player in college basketball last year, he was one of them," said Stevens. "When we played against [Indiana], the play that I remember most vividly last year was, our guys were still diving on the loose ball that he had already picked up and laid in. He’s pretty impressive athletically. The thing I love about Victor Oladipo, one of the many reasons why Orlando continues to make great strides, is he’s an energy giver. That guy raises the energy level in the room, he’s a great teammate. He’s a hard-worker. When you’re most ballyhooed players act like that, it’s a pretty good thing."
- PUTTING THE D IN ORLANDO: The Magic rank third in the league in defensive rating through five games. What's more, they rank third in points allowed per possession (0.846 per Synergy Sports data). Boston must find a way to generate consistent offense, especially in halfcourt sets. For the Celtics, it's another young and talented opposing frontcourt with Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic leading that defensive charge. The Magic have been vulnerable to cutters, something Boston is hoping it can exploit, particularly with a second unit that now features Gerald Wallace running with excellent passing bigs in Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.
- BACKCOURT IN FOCUS: The Celtics started slow Wednesday night against Utah, but Brad Stevens plans to go back to a new-look starting group that features Jordan Crawford sharing point guard duties with Avery Bradley. "I thought [Crawford] did a great job, especially in the second half," said Stevens. "I thought, at the end of the day, he controlled the end of the game when we needed a calming presence. He did a good job with that. One thing about Jordan, and I said this [Thursday] in our staff meeting, when Jordan’s not playing basketball any more, he’ll probably find a game somewhere on [any given] night. That’s what you know about him. He’s going to show up every time he there’s because he loves the game." The Celtics hope Crawford's presence can also allow Bradley to thrive in a more natural shooting guard role.
- WHAT ELSE?: The Magic are playing without Tobias Harris (ankle) and old friend Glen Davis (foot). ... Stevens loosed his rotation last time out, playing both Phil Pressey and Kris Humphries as part of an 11-man rotation. He keeps telling his players (like little used MarShon Brooks) to stay ready for their opportunity. ... The Celtics play the Magic twice in the next four days as Orlando visits TD Garden on Monday.
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