Despite wiping out two Eastern Conference playoff contenders in their first two games, the Boston Celtics looked a bit flat against the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. They were able to grind out a 126-120 win, but it didn’t come easily.
Jayson Tatum and Derrick White willed the offense forward as Terrence Ross, Franz Wagner, and rookie Paolo Banchero attempted to lead the Magic to their first win of the season. Orlando even tossed a zone look at Boston, which seemed to throw them off their game.
But according to head coach Joe Mazzulla, they attacked the zone well enough. They just didn’t hit their shots.
“I thought we got great looks, we just didn’t make them. The thing about a zone defense is it just forces you to stay uncomfortable. And I’m not uncomfortable with our players shooting wide open threes.”
The Celtics ended up shooting 42-of-87 (48.3%) from the field, but a couple of their star players struggled to put together efficient performances. Jaylen Brown shot just 4-of-16, while Marcus Smart went 2-of-11.
Tatum, White, and Boston’s three-point shooters were left to carry the load, and things got particularly interesting when Tatum and Grant Williams were forced into center minutes. With Al Horford sidelined, the Celtics were very thin at the big man position.
That being said, one of their back up bigs did manage to pull off the play of the game, according to Mazzulla.
“I thought Blake [Griffin]’s loose ball was the highlight of the game, to be honest with you. I think that setting the tone in the second half with the physicality was great. That was great leadership.”
Late in the third quarter, Griffin was matched up against Banchero in the post and managed to poke the ball away. He dove on the ground to grab it and somehow kept it inbounds, passing it back to his Celtics teammate. The entire Boston bench got up and cheered him on afterward.
I’ve waited almost a decade to see Blake Griffin earn a Tommy Point pic.twitter.com/icpbctw64Y— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) October 23, 2022
Griffin played just 9:33, and Noah Vonleh only played 13:49, despite earning the start. That being said, both played fairly well in their minutes, and even when they weren’t on the court, the rest of the team picked up the slack when they needed to.
Even so, Orlando was seemingly getting to their spots with ease for the entirety of the first half. Mazzulla said that Boston’s coverages were fine, but they weren’t picking up in the right spots or pressuring enough early on.
“I thought our defensive coverages were clean. Like I said, I don’t think it was a matter of those. Our pickup points and our pressure just wasn’t great in the first half. When you’re not connected like that defensively, it takes a toll on everybody. And so once we got connected, it was better.”
The Magic, who shot just 29.7% from three-point range through their first two games, managed to shoot the three ball at a 44.1% clip against the Celtics. Ross led the way with five makes, but the rest of the Magic were getting quality looks from range, too.
Orlando is in the midst of a rebuild and widely expected to finish toward the bottom of the table, yet the Celtics, who are projected to compete for a title, still struggled mightily.
Championship aspirations need to be paired with a championship mindset, and Mazzulla said that, even when they’re playing well, they can’t always expect to be comfortable.
“Just because we had two good games, we can’t create this expectation that things are always going to go our way and that we’re always going to feel comfortable. It’s not going to be that way. I think our guys did a great job of staying even-keeled, poised. They challenged each other. We know exactly what we need to do. I think part of a great team is building an awareness to, when are we playing well and when are we not, and then how do we get back to being ourselves, and I thought we did a great job of that at halftime.”