The cardiac Celtics would be a great monicker if it wasn’t so cliche.
Friday night was a rare exception, in dramatic form, and it was all smiles at the Garden.
Even after what may have been their best win of the season over the Rockets, Isaiah Thomas gave his team a call of action once again: “be more consistent.” Injuries and poor defensive play have made that difficult.
Friday night in Boston, with Al Horford joining Avery Bradley on the bench with a groin strain, an injury he struggled with late last season, they were fortunate to run into a Magic team that had lost 11 of 14. On defense Orlando ran into a brick wall, losing control consistently, which allowed Boston to engulf them in high-paced offense.
When the dust settled on a non-stop run of buckets by the C’s through the second half, including a 24-4 run in the third, Boston had their second straight win 128-98.
The Magic opened the game showcasing their front court depth. Serge Ibaka split the scoreless start.
Ibaka cut and Nikola Vucevic posted up on Amir Johnson before turning around and hitting a jumper in the early going. Boston stuck right in it through Orlando’s offensive surge. Thomas set up dunks for Jaylen Brown and Johnson off hesitation moves while new starter Jonas Jerebko sprinted up the court to stuff Ibaka on a breakaway, who was haphazardly laying the ball in.
Out of the break some separation set in, as expected against a team that’s lost so consistently. Up 21-15, Vucevic kept striking back with long jump shots; he hit five of his first six. Gordon added a three-pointer that pulled Orlando within three but the C’s worked the ball from baseline to baseline through the paint and found Brown for a corner three. Jerebko’s transition defense and Brown’s offensive activity (seven points in eight minutes) played a big role early.
He would help extend the lead to eight with a pair of free throws, before Marcus Smart’s bench unit continued the offensive push. Kelly Olynyk hit his first attempt from three on the wing and Smart found Tyler Zeller on a bounce pass as he sprinted behind the defense. Zeller followed with an assist from the high key to Olynyk on the baseline and a cutting lay-up to cap off Boston’s highest scoring quarter of the season, 39-24.
Smart continued to dazzle at the point, finding Rozier on the drive who swung to Zeller. Rozier then flew through the air, contorting himself to score around the arm of Bismack Biyombo. The C’s blew the door open on a 6-0 run, while Smart had seven of the team’s first 16 assists.
Through the second quarter the C’s dominated the paint at both ends, nearly doubling up Orlando in scoring in that area. Working the ball from the top of the post to the baseline was crucial and Thomas routinely initiated with drives and floating passes to cutting bigs.
Vucevic remained the Magic’s lone source of consistent offense, other attempts to get to the rim were thwarted by mishandles and bad touches. Elfrid Payton scored changing directions on a turning dribble move at the rim, but Jae Crowder immediately responded on a wing three to go up 63-45. To cap off the half Brown finished how it began, with an aggressive crash on Smart’s missed layup for a score.
The C’s tore through the opening minutes of the third, swinging the ball around to find threes for Brown and Crowder. A five point swing from Thomas and Jerebko from the corner followed, putting the Celtics up by 30 before Orlando took off on their first big run of the game.
Ibaka and Payton traded shots, then Payton battled in for two straight makes that dwindled the lead down to a measly 20. It didn’t take long for Boston’s offense to jump start again and from there they throttled the Magic with no remorse.
With their starters in tow, the Celts unloaded everything they had on a 24-4 run over the last six minutes of the third; topping off with 100 points 12 minutes earlier than teams typically do. Crowder and Thomas both poured in a pair of threes while Smart continued to dominate in the distribution game, driving and kicking across the court to produce easy shots. Every bucket seemed to deflate Orlando’s spirit to flatness.
Gino time was approaching but the onslaught continued into the early moments of the fourth. Smart heaved a half court ally-oop to Olynyk and plays later found him with what’s become his notable bounce pass across the paint into another make. Olynyk hit his first seven attempts and Boston stood large at 114-74.
Official garbage time began with six minutes to go; featuring Jordan Mickey, Terry Rozier, James Young, more minutes for Brown and Gerald Green. Even with the low bench entering nothing could end the destruction. Mickey racked up four points in his first minute, Young got fouled on a three and Rozier poured in a step back jumper. At 125-91, Gino Time finally commenced.
Boston dropped their first atomic bomb of the season. A 128-98 result against Orlando may not impress, but the pace and aggressiveness of the new lineup with Brown certainly did. For a pair of nights, the best of the Celtics were on display. Defense and transition offense with pace.