The Celtics defeated the Magic 128-111 on Friday despite a short-handed roster and grueling schedule this week.
Here are the takeaways.
1. At some point this season, when the Celtics inevitably skid a bit (because this is the NBA, and continuing this torrid pace isn’t realistic), this stretch of basketball would be a good thing for Celtics fans to keep in mind in the interest of their sanity.
With their entire center rotation on the bench just 24 hours after their contest against the Cavaliers, the Celtics took on a well-rested Orlando Magic team that is currently third in the Eastern Conference, and they blew them out of TD Garden. When the game started to get away from the Magic, the Celtics hit the gas harder and gradually built a 20-point lead. The Celtics’ starters created great shots for themselves and each other. the bench continued to shine and got eye-opening performances from players who haven’t had a chance to play much this season.
As a result, the Celtics are now 13-0 at TD Garden and 19-5 for the season. This is impressive basketball and a good reminder that the Celtics are a monstrous roster if they stay healthy, but still really good even if key members of their rotation miss a game or two. Sure, playing without Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford and Luke Kornet could be a problem … but Lamar Stevens is still a competent NBA player, and just about any competent NBA player would be in a position to succeed next to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday.
At some point this season, the Celtics will scuffle again because that’s how professional basketball works. For the sake of your blood pressure, remember that another stretch like this is probably on the horizon.
2. After the game, a reporter started to ask Joe Mazzulla about the team’s depth, which was a question mark coming into the season.
“For you guys,” Mazzulla corrected him. “Not for me. I wasn’t worried.”
Fair enough. The bench has been excellent and was particularly good on Friday, led by Payton Pritchard who poured in 21 points and shot 7-for-10 from the field and 6-for-7 from behind the arc. Pritchard is now one of the Celtics’ best on/off players, and lineups with him outscore opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions (in 105 possessions, Pritchard’s most frequent group — which includes Tatum, Holiday, Horford, and Sam Hauser — has outscored opponents by 33.3 points per 100 possessions).
Pritchard wasn’t alone. Hauser shot 3-for-6 from deep, scored 11 points and picked off four steals.
“Payton and Sam being able to find confidence and be able to just continue to excel, we’re going to need that going down the line further,” Jaylen Brown said. “Games like today are big for those guys’ confidence and we got to continue to emphasize when we can and play through Sam, play through Payton when they’re playing well. I think that’s going to be more important to the long-term than playing through me right now or playing through JT.”
3. Meanwhile, Neemias Queta swatted away three shots and scored six points, and Oshae Brissett shot 4-for-4 from the field and scored 11 points. Mazzulla praised Brissett in particular for his professionalism and said the two speak almost daily.
“He’s been in this league. He’s played on good teams. He’s been coached,” Mazzulla said. “Like, he’s just a professional. So it goes back to just the work that he puts in every day. I have no hesitation going with any of those guys on any day because I see what they do daily.
“You almost want opportunities like this to affirm their work ethic and their professionalism.”
Brissett said it felt “great, oh my God” to play extended minutes.
“I strongly believe our second unit is better than a lot of teams’ first unit, and I can say that confidently,” he said.
4. Brown threw down several emphatic dunks in the first half, including this big one over Magic guard Anthony Black.
Brown finished with 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting, and (as we’ve been noting), he dished out at least four assists for the fourth game in a row after his two-game stretch without one.
Mazzulla praised Brown for helping the Celtics get out in transition. The Celtics outscored the Magic 18-6 in fast-break points, per the NBA’s stats.
“Jaylen has done a good job of just leading that approach to our offensive pace, and when you can get out and score early baskets in transition, it gets us crossmatched, and then I think it really sparks our defense,” Mazzulla said. “I think the advantage tonight for us was speed.”
5. For his part, Brown was emphatic about the importance of Friday’s win, especially in light of how well the Magic played the Celtics last year and earlier this season when they nearly knocked the Celtics out of contention for the in-season tournament.
“I think this is the biggest game of the year so far,” Brown said. “In my opinion, for us, I think one we had a bunch of guys out and a back-to-back versus a team that’s been kicking our ass the last four or five times we played. I think this was the biggest game to me so far.”
6. Sam Hauser’s parents sat in the front row next to team governor Wyc Grousbeck, which made for a lot of fun shots from the NBC Sports Boston cameras whenever he did something well.
“My parents haven’t been out here in a while, so they were excited to be here,” Hauser said. “It was fun to play in front of them for the first time in a while. It always amps you up a little bit.”
7. Take the NBA’s hustle stats however you want, but the Celtics finished with 18 deflections to eight by the Magic, which does align with the eye test. They finished with 14 steals to Orlando’s five.
8. Jayson Tatum briefly played center tonight, which is an interesting wrinkle. The Celtics haven’t gone to it much this year, but Tatum is as tall and strong as a lot of fives in the NBA, and he creates a devastating mismatch at that position.
Tatum, incidentally, had a ho-hum 30-point, six-rebound, four-assist game.
9. Magic guard Jalen Suggs had a scary moment in the first half when he went up and swatted away a layup attempt by Pritchard only to land oddly on his left hand. Suggs appeared to be in a ton of pain and went to the bench, but fortunately, he got X-rays at halftime, which came back negative. Suggs re-entered the game with a wrap on his left hand and finished 5-for-9 from 3-point range.
10. The Celtics continue their inexplicable schedule with another home game against the Magic on 3 p.m. on Sunday. After that, they will head to the west coast for a road trip that includes a Christmas-Day game against LeBron James and the Lakers.
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