In their third consecutive Christmas Day game in as many years, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Boston Celtics by the score of 86-78. This is the first time the two teams met since the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. As has been the case the past few seasons, the Magic and Celtics engaged in a low-scoring defensive slugfest that was wildly entertaining to watch. Both squads took a hold of momentum throughout the game but in the end, it was a strong fourth quarter surge by Orlando that allowed them to prevail against Boston. In the process, the Magic became the first team in 13 years to snap 10+ game winning streaks in consecutive games. Orlando was led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. Brandon Bass was a surprise contributor, finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds. Hedo Turkoglu had his best all-around game in his second stint with the Magic so far, chipping in with 16 points, four rebounds, and four assists. J.J. Redick had 11 points, including a clutch jumper in the late stages of the fourth quarter that allowed Orlando to come away with the victory. Ryan Anderson provided a spark off the bench, contributing with 10 points and nine rebounds. But the hero of the game was Jameer Nelson. Even though Nelson finished with 12 points, 10 of them came in the last three minutes of the game. Nelson was clutch for the Magic and one of the main reasons why they were able to win.
This was a crazy game to watch.
Orlando came out like gangbusters in the opening minutes of the first quarter. In the span of roughly four minutes, the Magic went on a 13-0 run to start the game.
Jason Richardson started things off with a layup off the dribble. Then Turkoglu went nova and couldn’t miss a shot. Turkoglu kicked it off with a three-pointer after Howard couldn’t connect on an alley-oop pass from Nelson. From there, Turkoglu was able to make a step-back jumper off the dribble. And lastly, Turkoglu made another three in transition that sent the Amway Center crowd into a frenzy. After Bass made a layup to put the Magic up by 13 points, the Celtics knew they had a fight on their hands and they responded — as they always do.
Later in the period, Boston went on a 15-0 run and — slowly but surely — took control of the game. The Celtics executed on offense, tightened up the screws on defense, and led for the majority of the day.
In the first half, rarely did Orlando generate points in half-court sets. When the Magic were able to score, it came in transition. That changed a little bit in the third quarter when Orlando was starting to execute better offensively in the half-court but everything turned in the fourth quarter.
For 36 minutes, the Magic could not score consistently enough.
The reason? Boston’s defense was superb.
When Dwight Howard wasn’t dealing with foul trouble, he was neutralized thanks in large part to the efforts of Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Glen Davis. Each of them, especially Shaq, were not afraid to get physical with Howard in the low post and make life difficult for him to do what he wanted on offense. Also, enough can’t be said about Kevin Garnett — unstoppable offensively and his pick and roll coverage was pristine for most of the game. The Celtics’ team defense, which relies on sound defensive principles, deserves kudos for their efforts but there’s no doubt that Garnett is the anchor and makes the unit a terror to score on.
But Orlando found a way in the final stanza.
Despite minimal contributions from Howard, Nelson and newcomers like Gilbert Arenas and Richardson, the Magic trailed by six entering the period. As great as Boston was playing, the game was still winnable for Orlando.
Here’s how it broke down:
Howard finally made his first field goal at the 11:08, making a righty hook in a 4-out/1-in offensive set. Minutes later, Redick was able to make a three-pointer, thanks to excellent ball movement that came from a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard and Arenas. Another three-point shot, this time from Richardson, kept the Magic in striking distance as the Celtics were unable to land the killshot that could have changed everything. Checking into the game for Anderson, Bass was able to make his presence felt with a number of mid-range jumpers that capped off an impressive performance for him. After Howard was able to make three out of four free throws on back-to-back possessions, Boston was leading by the score of 77-72.
That’s when Nelson, out of nowhere it seemed like, stepped up in crunch time.
In a staggered 1/5 pick and roll with Bass and Howard, Nelson was able to make a three-pointer on the wing to pull the Magic within two points. Bass made another mid-range jumper to tie the game at 77 apiece. Nelson, then, struck again with another three in a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard. That gave Orlando the lead at 80-77 and they would never relinquish it. Redick made a clutch jumper off the dribble to keep the Celtics at bay and Nelson iced it with four free throws. It was an improbable comeback for the Magic, considering how they were playing for three quarters. Execution in half-court sets and stifling defense, especially from Howard, were big reasons why Orlando was able to win.
The Magic never gave up and displayed the type of mental toughness that’s been missing from the team. Yes, Boston was without the services of Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, two key cogs in their starting lineup. But it would be an insult to Orlando’s effort to shortchange the importance of their victory, given that this a roster that’s still trying to get to know each other.
It’s been four games since general manager Otis Smith decided to roll the dice and acquire Arenas, Richardson, and Turkoglu and it’s too early whether or not the moves will pay off because everything will be determined in the playoffs.
Still, the Magic are heading in the right direction.