For the second game in a row, the Celtics placed six players in double figures. The leading scorer was Jeff Green with only 17 points. The Celtics bench led the way, outscoring Orlando’s second unit 43-25. They saw a 23-point lead whittle down in the waning minutes, but managed to hold on for the win.
Paul Pierce finished three assists shy of a triple-double and Kevin Garnett posted a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Celtics won their third straight, all without their All-Star point guard, and have a day of practice before an afternoon meeting with the Clippers on Super Bowl Sunday.
Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic each had double-doubles for the Magic, but the most impressive performance by an Orlando player came courtesy of rookie Kyle O’Quinn. The Norfolk State product owned the fourth quarter, the only quarter in which he played, to put up 11 points in just a smidgen over seven minutes.
Fourth quarter, 3:23, Celtics 90-75: A little sloppiness, and the Celts’ lead is down to 15. After back-to-back baskets by Moore and and a steal and dunk by Ish Smith, Rivers took a quick timeout to remind everybody this game ain’t over yet. It should be down for a Celtics “W,” but still.
Fourth quarter, 5:05, Celtics 86-67: Yikes. Green just baptized Vucevic. I won’t even try to describe it. Just go watch it somewhere.
Garnett left this game to loud cheers by the crowd, which recognized that with a lead like this, he should be done for the night. But right on cue, the Celtics’ defensive rotations broke down and the Magic scored easy buckets on back-to-back possessions.
Running and gunning is nice, but the Celtics need to find a way to get stops when Garnett takes a seat. That is always the case, of course, but it might need reinforcing since they are now another man down on the front line with Sullinger’s injury.
Fourth quarter, 8:07, Celtics 82-63: The Magic appear to treat defense as optional in the fourth quarter. If so, it is easy to see why they are 14-31.
The Celtics, especially Green and Lee, are attacking the basket at will. Green hit a couple of tough layups while absorbing contact, and Lee reversed a screen by Garnett to drive baseline for a dunk over Redick. A few more tacked onto this lead and the Celtics can get some early rest before Sunday’s matchup with the Clippers.
End of third quarter, Celtics 72-59: Pierce might be taking this stuff about stepping up and filling Rondo’s responsibilities a little too far. Heading into the fourth quarter, Pierce is stalking a triple-double. Doesn’t he know that’s Rondo’s job?
Pierce, who registered a triple-double two games ago, needs three assists in the final 12 minutes to give him another trey-deuce. He is at 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists thus far.
Third quarter, 1:54, Celtics 66-56: Once again, the bench comes through. With a soaring baseline dunk as the top moment, the Celtics went on a 9-2 run to increase their lead back to double-digits.
Third quarter, 5:54, Celtics 55-49: This Lee-Bradley backcourt is becoming a lot of fun to watch. Both guards move a ton without the ball, can knock down a corner three and are a handful on defense.
Lee gave the most extended highlight for the duo after he quickly stole the ball back after a Magic defensive stop. He dribbled out, penetrated the lane and then dropped a jump-pass to a cutting Bradley for a reverse layup.
The Celtics need more energetic play like that, as they are going through their normal mid-game doldrums. The 13-point advantage was down to four points before Lee and Bradley’s flurry of activity.
Third quarter, 8:52, Celtics 48-43: Never before has Courtney Lee hitting the floor taken so much air out of a building. The Celtics cannot afford to lose any more bodies, yet while Lee tried to chase Redick around a screen, he was caught in the midsection by Vucevic. Lee stood up after a few seconds and stayed in the game, but it was a worrying moment for a team already light on bodies.
Halftime, Celtics 46-35: The Celtics could not have started out much colder on offense, but since then they have been scorching. The bench can take credit for that.
After starting out 3-for-11 from the field, the Celtics went 18-for-30 the rest of the half. The reserves, led by Terry, Green and Barbosa, sparked the run. Garnett picked up on their energy, scoring all 10 of his points in the second quarter to lead the Celtics.
Pierce has been quiet scoring-wise, but he has eight rebounds and four assists and he takes on the responsibility of filling both Rondo and Sullinger’s roles.
Second quarter, 6:11, Celtics 35-24: The Big Ticket must have heard us talking (typing?) about him. Since the last stoppage, Garnett has drilled two step-back jumpers and looks ready to take the young Vucevic, a solid young big man, to school.
Second quarter, 7:43, Celtics 29-24: For once, Garnett is the one trying to fit in. The unit of Wilcox, Green, Barbosa and Terry is attacking the hoop and taking its open shots, but Garnett is the only one who looks tentative. He practically had to be coaxed into taking on the rookie Nicholson in the post, then finally took a baseline jumper in rhythm.
End of first quarter, Celtics 25-18: Disclaimer: This is not saying that the Celtics are better without Rondo, so do not read it as that.
The Celtics’ offense looks much different after a turnover or rebound than it did when Rondo was healthy. Whereas the player who got the ball used to stop and wait to hand the ball to Rondo while everybody else jogged up the court, now whoever gets the ball immediately looks for a long touchdown pass. That was how Green found Barbosa for a free and clear layup.
So far, the bench is carrying the starters. The Celtics’ starting five went 5-for-16 from the field in the first half. Led by Terry, the bench was 5-for-7 and helped the Celtics get about 40 percent from the field.
First quarter, 2:57, Celtics 15-13: One worry, in the wake of the second season-ending injury in less than a week, is how the Celtics’ second unit will be effected. So far, it looks like Boston’s bench still could be their strength.
Barbosa, Green and Terry keyed a 6-0 run to push the Celtics back into the lead, playing the up-tempo style the team has to play without Rondo running the show. So far the Celts are also holding close rebounding-wise. They are winning the battle on the boards 13-11, although Orlando is no great rebounding team either. (The Magic are 19th in the NBA in rebounding.)
First quarter, 6:15, Magic 8-7: If the Celtics keep shooting like this, we can all expect to hear Rivers’ staple quote after the game:
“It’s a make-miss league.”
Right now, the Celtics are a “miss” team. They have missed eight of their first 11 shots, so even though they have held the Magic to 36 percent shooting, they still trail.
6:48 p.m.: Courtney Lee had to knock on the wood paneling on the locker when he was asked, “Who’s next?”
It was a pertinent question since Jared Sullinger, the team’s rookie rebounder extraordinaire, is officially joining Rajon Rondo on the list of Celtics who are out for the season. Sullinger underwent surgery on Friday on his lower back, leaving the already-thin Celtics with even less depth up front.
“We knew this could happen,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “We knew it a month before the draft that this could happen and at some point probably would happen. We were hoping it’d be a summer thing rather than the middle of the season, but it happened now. He was playing great. I think the good news is, we know he can play and we know he’ll be a very good player. In the long run, this will make him healthier.”
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made a rare pregame appearance, telling reporters that he spoke with three specialists and all recommended immediate surgery, which should make Sullinger ready for training camp next season. Sullinger’s back has been bothering him for about 10 days, Ainge said, and he spent the last couple of days in the hospital.
The Magic have their own problems, meanwhile. Arron Afflalo is highly unlikely to play due to a strained left calf and Achilles. That means the Magic will be without their top two frontcourt players, as Glen Davis is also on the shelf after breaking his foot earlier this week.
The projected starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: So far, so good for the Celtics without their All-Star point guard. They are 2-0 since Rajon Rondo went down for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, although just 1-0 since they actually learned of the injury. (Aside from Doc Rivers and a few people on the medical staff, nobody knew of Rondo’s diagnosis until after Sunday’s win over the Heat.)
The Celtics (22-23) now get a chance to climb back to .500 and continue to counter anybody who might have written them off. Their next opponent is the Magic (14-31), who were having a rough time even before Glen Davis broke his foot in Wednesday’s game against the Knicks. Davis joins Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington on the shelf for Orlando, which has lost seven straight.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.