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Lessons from Celtics-Magic: getting punched in the face

The Celtics faced a hard-nosed Magic team Friday night, and were on the wrong side of the Black Friday news cycle. They also got a black eye.

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

You ever just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and get punched in the face?

Your alarm goes off, and once you pry your eyelids open and roll over to face it, you realize your neck mysteriously hurts. Then you just let the alarm ring for a few minutes, because the prospect of actually lifting your arm to turn it off is way too complicated.

Eventually you have to get up, but cosmic forces have decided to offer you the path of maximum resistance. The shower takes forever to heat up, your hair is a disaster, you’re out half-and-half, it’s just a bad time overall. But you made it through the morning. Now imagine someone sucker punches you as soon as you open the door.

On Friday, the Celtics woke up hungover and with enough neck pain to visit the chiropractor after work. And then they ran into the Orlando Magic, a physical, painful team that hit the lethargic Celtics with two left-hooks and an uppercut.

The Magic are a good team, but—more importantly—they’re a big team. They have size all over the map, and play with world-beating physicality that has allowed them to punch above their weight class this year. In fact, the authorities are currently reviewing if the Magic should just be moved to the top weight class right away, to ensure the physical safety of their peers.

The Celtics have frequently fallen victim to tough teams and players, with the ghosts of P.J. Tucker, Draymond Green, and Jimmy Butler haunting TD Garden to this day. In the 2021 NBA Finals, Jayson Tatum was repeatedly bodied by Andrew Wiggins to neutralize the Celtics’ number one option. Increased physicality was one of my hopes coming into the season, with Tatum coming into media day looking like a body builder and the Celtics as a whole getting older and tougher.

But the Celtics were sluggish, and completely unprepared for the Moe Wagner revenge game, who came off the bench possessed and dropped a cool 27 points on his former team. Oh, did you forget that Wagner was even on the Celtics? I often do, because he was completely unplayable for the nine games he was in Boston. Thanks bro.

Now, I’m not going to say that the Celtics’ loss at 2:30 pm on Black Friday was because they ate too much Turkey the day before… but I’m not not going to say that. I, for one, ate way too much on Thanksgiving and was basically immobile on Friday, so if someone asked me to travel to Orlando to play in a basketball game, I wouldn’t have been thrilled.

Those of you accustomed to my basketball philosophy will know that I do not—under any circumstances—bake excuses into a game before it even happens, and that applies here as well. After last week’s loss to the Hornets, I sounded the alarm about the Celtics’ late-game execution and complete failure to close a game against a team they absolutely should have beat. That game had more built-in excuses than a kid whose dog ate their homework, but that didn’t mean blowing a double-digit lead down the stretch was okay.

But Friday was a wall-to-wall disaster, and it’s hard to come up with any explanation other than a complete breakdown of structure. It was definitely a tough spot to be in, especially with Jrue Holiday missing from the lineup and coming off of a tooth-and-nail victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. Things went from bad to worse once Porzingis had to leave the game with calf tightness, and a completely disastrous 3rd Quarter dug the Celtics in a hole that they lacked the equipment to dig out of.

The loss of Holiday clearly affected the Celtics’ tenacity on the glass, losing the offensive rebound battle by a convincing margin. Holiday has been inconsistent offensively this year, but he never fails to bring it in the effort department. The Celtics have struggled this season when both Derrick White and Holiday aren’t available, so it’s worth wondering if Brad Stevens will be looking at guard depth around the deadline.

Once Porzingis went down, the Celtics found themselves leaning on Luke Kornet to lock down the paint in the face of the Magic’s extreme size. Kornet had a solid game as an interior scorer, but couldn’t slow down the Wagner brothers or Paolo Banchero, who got basically whatever they wanted in the paint.

I’d advise against overreacting to this loss, as the Magic aren’t the middling team that many expected them to be coming into the season. They’re legit good, and are going to be a nightmare to play throughout the season, especially after a holiday based around eating and drinking more than usual.

The Celtics can and will bounce back, but it seems they caught the wrong end of a coming out party in Orlando. It was an announcement to the NBA that they are not be underestimated, and the Celtics got announced on pretty hard.

Next up is the Hawks on Sunday night, the first game of a seven-game home stand. So rest up, take some melatonin and wake up on the right side of the parquet. Starting Sunday, the Celtics need to walk out the door and do the punching.

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