This one came without Jayson Tatum – sidelined for personal reasons – but it was still quite surprising. The Celtics have now lost four of five, and for the first time this season, it’s fair to be slightly concerned about the C’s.
Jaylen Brown paced the Celtics (22-9) with 24 points and 14 rebounds, Marcus Smart added 15 points and seven assists and Grant Williams added 14 points and six boards.
The first half wasn’t kind to the Celtics, as they fell behind, 26-23, though one quarter and 50-41 at halftime.
Magic star Paolo Banchero erupted for 22 of his 31 points in the first half alone. He hit all four of his 3-point attempts and was clearly the best player on the floor as the Magic (11-20) pulled ahead.
Smart, Brown and Derrick White paced the Celtics with eight apiece in the half, but the Celtics shot just 27.9 percent from the floor and 20.8 percent from distance. Their shot selection was questionable at best, and they were in a daze the bulk of the way.
The Celtics briefly took a 31-30 lead with 5:16 left in the half, but Banchero buried a 3 moments later that ignited a 20-10 extended run before the break. The Magic turned it over just three times in the half and looked just as comfortable as they did Friday, when they shot 46.2 percent and won, 117-109.
With Tatum out, it was reasonable to expect the offense to take a bit of a dip – just how much of a dip, however, was surprising. It felt like the Celtics should have been down 10 to 15 at the half, but they managed to keep it to nine.
In the second half, the Celtics settled into more of a rhythm and moved the ball closer to the way they have most of the season. Smart fueled a 16-6 run to start the third, as Boston took a 57-56 edge.
Brown then fired up the crowd with back-to-back dunks, as the Celtics took a 71-68 lead into the fourth quarter.
The teams traded buckets well into the fourth, as the Magic made it clear they weren’t going to go down quietly. Panchero buried a 3 to give Orlando an 88-87 edge with 3:28 remaining,
Franz Wagner canned a clutch 3 to give the Magic a four-point lead, then Malcolm Brogdon responded with a huge 3 of his own to slice it to 93-92 with 56 seconds remaining.
Smart dove on the floor in classic Smart fashion to secure a loose ball with 9.8 seconds left. Grant Williams inbounded the ball in Brown’s direction, but the pass never got to him.
Wagner calmly hit both free throws, then Williams missed a contested 3 as time expired. The Celtics had their chances but couldn't rally against one of the worst teams in the NBA.