In a game nobody on the Magic or the Boston Celtics — outside of Orlando’s Paolo Banchero — found their offensive rhythm, it was “bell plays” down the stretch that was the difference-maker for the Magic in their 95-92 victory on Sunday at TD Garden.
A little pregame motivation based on comments a former Celtics player made helped, too.
The first “bell play”/high-effort play: Markelle Fultz slithering around Marcus Smart and grabbing the offensive rebound off a Banchero missed layup before kicking the ball out to Franz Wagner for a 3-pointer, giving the Magic a 93-89 edge with 1:41 remaining.
The second and third hustle plays came when Kevon Harris and Fultz collected offensive boards with 29.7 seconds and 16 seconds, respectively, allowing the Magic to maintain possession and call timeouts after misses with a 93-92 lead.
The final one was redemption for Fultz. After turning the ball over on an inbounds pass with 9.8 seconds remaining, Fultz stole Grant Williams’ inbounds pass two seconds later, forcing Williams to foul Moe Wagner with 5.3 seconds remaining.
Wagner sealed the 3-point victory with a pair of free throws, giving Orlando its first back-to-back road wins.
“That says it all,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Those loose balls. Those 50-50 balls — Markelle jumping on the ground, getting a timeout. Diving on the floor after they got the turnover down the stretch. That’s who this team has to be: gritty, tough, fighting for one another and just staying the course no matter what’s happening in the game.”
The win for the Magic (11-20) was their sixth consecutive victory — Orlando’s first six-game win streak since March 14-26, 2019. It’s just their second six-game win streak since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
Banchero carried the Magic offensively, scoring 31 points on a career-high 6-of-7 shooting on 3s to go with 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot 9 of 21 from the floor and 7 of 9 on free throws. Banchero accounted for 38 of the Magic’s 95 points when combining the points he scored and the ones Orlando scored off his assists.
“I feel really confident with my 3-point shot,” said Banchero, who’s shot 52% on his 6.3 3s attempted per game over the last four games. “Just putting in a ton of work, trying to get that shot right, get my touch from out there right. Obviously, I’m not going to shoot 6 for 7 every game, but having that confidence — whether it’s a make or miss — to shoot the next one.”
Reserve forward Admiral Schofield led all bench scorers for both teams with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3 of 5 on 3s) in 17 minutes, including 11 of the Magic’s first 15 points in the opening 7½ minutes of the fourth.
Franz Wagner had 12 points but on 5-of-15 shooting to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists while Moe Wagner and Bol Bol added 11 points.
The Celtics (22-9), who’ve dropped four of their last five, were led by Jaylen Brown’s 24 points (10-of-25 shooting) and 14 rebounds. Their 92 points were a season-low, 1 fewer than they scored in their 113-93 Dec. 12 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Magic joined the Clippers as just the second team to hold the Celtics to fewer than 100 points this season.
Banchero said former Celtics guard Eddie House’s comments about the Magic following their 117-109 Friday road win over Boston added “fuel to the fire” for Orlando Sunday.
House downplayed that Magic victory during an appearance on NBC Boston Friday, saying:
“They got 10 wins [at the time]. They’re still garbage. They’re still not a good basketball team. They won’t make the playoffs. They won’t be in the play-in. The way the game unfolded was [the Celtics] came out complacent thinking they were head and shoulders better. Yeah, we are heads and shoulders better — the Celtics are heads and shoulders better.
“At the same time, there are proud professionals on the other side. I’m not talking about individually [that] they’re not good players, but as a team. We’re almost to Christmas. We’ve had a nice-sized sample to know exactly what you are.”
Banchero said those comments gave the Magic “instant motivation”.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t see that,” Banchero said. “It definitely lit a fire under some of the guys and the team in general. We just want to earn the respect of the league. It’s clear that a lot of people still don’t respect us. We’re just going to have to go out, game by game, and lock in, and eventually, it’ll be earned. Until then, we’re going to have to keep proving people wrong.”
The signs Sunday was going to lack offensive production came early.
After the Magic jumped out to a 28-23 lead with 11:14 in the second following a Terrence Ross 16-foot pull-up jumper, neither team made a field for nearly 3½ minutes until Smart made a 3 to stop the scoring drought and reduce Boston’s deficit to 28-27 with 7:48 until halftime.
There was another two-minute stretch in the middle of the second without a made field goal, with the Magic taking a 50-41 lead going into halftime after holding the Celtics to 27.9% shooting from the field (12 of 43) and 20.8% on 3s.
The Celtics found their offensive groove in the third, outscoring the Magic 30-18 by getting into the paint (16 points on 8-of-13 shooting) and knocking down their 3s (4 of 10) to take a 71-68 lead heading into the fourth.
Schofield gave the Magic the boost they needed, making his final 3 with 5:34 remaining to bring Orlando’s deficit down to 84-83 before subbing out one minute later with the Magic leading 85-84.
The Magic made the hustle plays down the stretch to secure the win, kicking off the four-game road trip with back-to-back wins over the league-leading Celtics
Orlando shot 38.4% from the field (33 of 86) but held the Celtics to 34.8%, including 25.5% on 3s. Boston, who was without Jayson Tatum because of undisclosed personal reasons, entered Sunday shooting 48.5% from the field and 38.6% on 3s, the league’s fifth- and fourth-best marks, respectively.
The Magic will play the Hawks in Atlanta on Monday on the second night of the road back-to-back before completing the trip with a matchup in Houston Wednesday.
“We’re all proud of each other,” Banchero said, “but we got to turn it around and do it again [Monday]. That’s what we’re focused on.”