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Earlier in the week, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers had warned his team about the perils of a Christmas Day game. With holiday distractions abound, he knew the chances his team could come out flat were high. With a brilliant first and final four minutes of the game, Orlando used eight impeccable minutes to sink the Celtics in a game in which they were largely outplayed. Brandon Bass scored 21 points, Hedo Turkoglu looked rejuvinated with 15 and the Orlando Magic closed out the Boston Celtics’ winning streak at 14 games with an 86-78 victory Saturday. The win comes on the heels of the Magic’s beating of the Western Conference leading San Antonio Spurs.
Following a series of blockbuster trades and a couple of big-time wins, the Magic suddenly look like a team gaining momentum. While they’re happy to have a victory, the Celtics certainly did everything in their power to present them with the win. Rajon Rondo was absent again and those Celtics who were healthy shot an embarassing 35% from the floor. In keeping with Rivers’ prediction, Orlando played their part, shooting only 39% on the day. After leaping out with a 13-0 run to begin the first, the Magic trailed for nearly the entire game. Enter Brandon Bass’ game-tying jumper at 1:56 to go, and Orlando never looked back. Jameer Nelson tacked on a 3-pointer, reveling in the moment during a frenzied (if not premature) celebration near the Orlando bench. Kevin Garnett then only made one of two free throws, effectively sealing the Celtics’ fate. The loss wasn’t Garnett’s fault one bit, however. Defense was never a problem on Christmas for the C’s, and Garnett was one of the few who found some consistency on the offensive end. He finished with 22 points, five rebounds and four steals. Paul Pierce was the next highest scorer for Boston with 18.
Hedo Turkoglu had his best game since returning to the Magic in that mega-deal, scoring 15 with four assists.
“You see what the possibilities are,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “You see that you have a chance to be a really good team. We’re not there yet by any means, but you have a chance to be a very good team. And I think that right there, that belief and that confidence that if we will stay with it, we can be very good.”
He’s right to be encouraged, but again, without Rondo on the floor, it’s hard to gauge your team against the league’s best. One thing’s for sure, and it’s that the Magic certainly haven’t gotten worse.
“We just didn’t lock down defensively like a team that knows how, especially down the stretch,” Pierce said. “That’s usually our bread and butter, down the stretch – we’re able to hold teams. It was completely opposite.”
The Celtics often hurried the ball, a noticeable byproduct of Rondo’s absence. Too many times they hurried up the court only to force bad shot after bad shot. Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each launched airballs in the waining seconds, and Nelson, 12 points in all, made four free throws to seal another huge victory for a Magic team that was looking feeble only a week ago.
“I had never played on Christmas,” Magic guard Gilbert Arenas said. “I got a nice Christmas present today.”