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Physicality cemented as Celtics’ kryptonite in loss to Magic: ‘We just gotta play tougher’

Boston got bullied in their 17-point loss to Orlando.

In-Season Tournament - Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics got trounced by the Orlando Magic in a Friday matinee game, marking their fourth loss of the year and replicated previous defeats.

In their first loss of the season, the Celtics were taken down by the Minnesota Timberwolves - one of the best defenses in the league. Jaden McDaniels denied Jayson Tatum the basketball, Rudy Gobert clogged the lane, and Minnesota’s physical style of play severely disrupted the Celtics’ offensive flow.

Against Orlando, it was deja vu. The Magic, a top-three defense, were able to use their physicality to show up the Celtics on both ends. Defensively, the Magic were able to get to the rim at ease, cruising into the paint and pushing past the Celtics for offensive rebounds with little resistance.

“We just gotta play tougher,” Jayson Tatum said after the Magic loss. “Take care of the ball, get to the spots we want to get to, play with more pace. They try to slow you down.”

Orlando ended the night with 60 points in the paint to Boston’s 40 and corralled 13 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points. Former Celtic Mo Wagner exploded for a 27-point night, dominating inside on a night where the Celtics had no answers inside.

Early on, Jaylen Brown was cooking, and he was carrying the Celtics’ offense. On a night when Jrue Holiday was sidelined, he and Kristaps Porzingis were able to generate some much-needed points. But outside of Brown, Boston wasn’t finding much success on offense. And when Brown went cold in the second half, and Porzingis exited with an injury, everything went wrong.

Without those two leading the way, Boston’s offensive rhythm shut down. The physical defense of Orlando, spearheaded by Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony (at times), was enough to disrupt the Celtics.

“Was it effort, was it toughness, was it execution?” head coach Joe Mazzulla pondered after the game. “I’m not sure which one it was, so I don’t want to comment on it, but obviously definitely frustrated when you go empty possession after empty possession, and then they’re scoring on open threes and offensive rebounds.”

The Celtics’ loss to the 76ers can even be partially blamed on a lack of physicality, as Joel Embiid’s presence as a roamer around the paint limited Boston’s effectiveness inside.

Add in the loss to the Charlotte Hornets, which was primarily an issue of laziness, physical play and hard-nosed defense have been kryptonite for the Celtics this season, especially when they have failed to get their offensive gears turning early.

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