It’s been a while since the Boston Celtics were playing in front of a home crowd, so I would expect the TD Garden to be rocking in a couple of hours time. Sure, the Orlando Magic aren’t the marquee matchup that would usually get the crowd on their feet, but the Disney-based team is currently on a hot streak and won’t be an easy out for the Celtics.
Robert Williams making his season debut should give fans an additional reason to cheer, as they celebrate their All-Defensive center’s return to the rotation — albeit on a hefty minutes restriction (I would assume).
Still, no NBA game is a cakewalk, so let’s look into some ways the Celtics can attempt to gain an advantage as they aim to make it two straight victories following the late-game surge against the Los Angeles Lakers that snapped their two-game losing streak.
Bubble wrap Robert Williams
It’s kind of fitting that Williams’ first game back is against a Magic team that has a fan-favorite center of their own in Bol Bol, as the young big man continues to impress for Orlando and has been incredibly fun to watch over the first few months of the new season.
Still, while a potential matchup between Williams and Bol is interesting, and enough to get us excited for the game to come, the fact is Joe Mazzulla and the coaching staff will need to handle Williams’ minutes and matchups with kid gloves. After all, Williams has missed a significant amount of playing time, and the biggest win for Boston will be seeing him come through the contest unscathed.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t come into the game hoping for a thunderous dunk or monster block that comes out of nowhere; that’s part of the experience, after all. Most importantly, though, giving Williams some minutes in this contest will give us a better understanding of how he’s going to fit within Mazzulla’s offensive system, be it as an initiator, roll man, or dunker spot menace — any answer is a good answer at this point.
Get back to selfless offense
The Magic may have seen an uptick in their performances, especially on the offensive end, but their defense still leaves a lot to be desired. Cleaning The Glass ranks them 17th in defensive rating over the last two weeks. As such, the Celtics should look to get back to their selfless best, with the ball pinging from side to side and penetrating guards making rim-reads galore.
If Boston can find some consistency in their offensive approach and begin to piece together the type of system we saw leading up to and including, the Phoenix Suns game, they should have no problem breaking down a young Magic defense, especially if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown decide to get in on the fun early and start knocking down their shots.
Of course, when the Celtics are playing at their best, there’s enough offense to go around for everybody, and that’s what has made them such a difficult opponent to contain, as they’ve charged to the top of the NBA’s offensive ratings.
Attack the corners
The Magic might boast the best ‘above the break’ defense in the NBA, holding teams to just 31.2% shooting from that area of the floor, but they have far less success when limiting their opponents' perimeter offense from the corners, ranking 27th in the league, with teams converting at a 41.8% clip.
Given the Celtics' plethora of corner shooters, they should have no problem punishing any porous defensive coverages from the shortest distance a three-point shot can be taken. It will be interesting to see the different strategies they use to get their guys open in the corners — I would guess hammer screens, ‘L’ cuts, and exit screens off of curl actions, but I’m sure Mazzulla will have some tricks up his sleeve to keep the Magic guessing.
Interestingly, the Magic also struggle to contain shooters around the rim, ranking 24th in the NBA at defending shots within four feet of the basket, meaning Boston’s drive-and-kick game should work perfectly if they commit to moving the ball and pressuring the rim until the low man is engaged before moving the rock to an open shooter.
Personally, I think the Magic have been one of the more fun teams to watch play this season, and can’t wait to see another round of Paolo Banchero matching up against Jayson Tatum. Or seeing Bol Bol doing his thing when trying to finesse his way through traffic.
Of course, I’m expecting the Celtics to come away from this game with a victory, but the little battles will be fun to watch unfold; oh, and we can’t forget about Terrence Ross, who always seems to find a new gear when facing Boston (it feels like every team has that one guy). Still, the Magic are a young, fun, and hungry team, so the Celtics should come out looking to extinguish their youthful fire early, and then control the game for the remainder of the contest.