Celtics Dust Magic

January 8, 2004


In a season increasingly filled with adversity and distractions, the Celtics finally earned something the easy way. Boston defeated Orlando, 101-93, last night at the FleetCenter, its ninth home win and its first since Dec. 21 against Philadelphia.

Once the Celtics established a double-digit lead against the Magic in the second quarter, they never let their advantage dip below 6 points. As a result, the home team cruised through much of the fourth quarter, much to the delight of 13,286 fans.

Orlando came close to usurping the Boston lead with 2 minutes 41 seconds left. Tracy McGrady hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, leaving Boston with a 92-86 lead. The Magic had a chance to draw closer on their next possession, but turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds. And the Celtics quickly pushed their lead back to double figures. The Magic briefly closed within 6 (99-93) with 23 seconds left, but by that time, it was a case of too little, too late.

"It feels good to get that monkey off our backs," said Paul Pierce. "I think we lost three in a row at home, but finally we took care of business and that was what we needed to do."

To the Celtics' credit, they did not suffer any major lapses.

They started strong and shot 47 percent or better in each quarter, and placed six players in double figures. They also succeeded in containing McGrady (28 points), who a night earlier had torched the Pacers for 43 points. While McGrady felt pressure to do it all, the Celtics had a different high scorer in each of the first three quarters. Pierce tallied 9 of his 19 in the first. Mike James recorded 7 of his team-high 21 in the second. Walter McCarty posted 6 of his 12 in the third.

There were plenty of other positive statistics. Boston shot 50 percent and held Orlando to 39 percent from the field. Despite being admittedly weak on the glass, the Celtics managed to outrebound the Magic, 50-37. Boston also recorded 24 assists on 38 field goals. The only area in which the Celtics performed poorly was from 3-point range, where they went 6 for 21. And coach Jim O'Brien certainly was not pleased with the 17 Boston turnovers that led to 16 Orlando points.

But given all that transpired over the last 24-plus hours, with the Celtics announcing a three-game suspension for Vin Baker, O'Brien had to be encouraged by the way his team came together and played.

In the NBA, Orlando has the capacity to cure what ails most struggling teams.

And entering last night's contest, Boston certainly qualified as a team with more than its share of struggles and distractions. The Celtics entered the game three games below .500 at the FleetCenter. Since the trade that brought Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Michael Stewart to town, Boston has struggled with consistency. It has been unable to string together a winning streak of even two games.

The Celtics needed to take advantage of the tired Magic, who were playing in the second of back-to-back road games. To that end, Boston wasted no time establishing a double-digit lead in the first quarter. In marked contrast to Monday's offensive struggles against the Pistons, the Celtics' attack came out clicking. They rarely missed a jump shot, shooting 64 percernt (16 for 25) in the first quarter.

When James nailed a 3-pointer with 7:08 remaining in the first, Boston took a 17-6 lead. But impressive was the way the Celtics moved the ball, collecting 12 assists on their first 16 field goals. All eight rotation players who received time in the first quarter scored at least one field goal. The opening quarter finished with the Celtics ahead, 36-29.

Although the Celtics' proficiency from the floor dropped slightly in the second, they still played well enough to take a 60-50 lead into halftime. "Right now, it is not there for us," said McGrady. "We're digging ourselves much too big a hole. You can't let teams score 36 or 40 points in the first quarter. You are going to lose a majority of games when you do that. We just need to get a win and see if we can build from that."

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