Final, Celtics win 96-89: With Jared Sullinger dominating the first 46 minutes and Rajon Rondo dominating the final two minutes, the Boston Celtics edged the Orlando Magic for their first victory with Rondo in the lineup.
Sullinger totaled 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Celtics (16-33), while Rondo came through with a massive steal and several big assists down the stretch to add to his 19-point, 10-assist, three-steal outing. The Magic (13-36) were led by ultra-steady Arron Afflalo, with 18 points, and Nik Vucevic, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Celtics snapped a six-game losing streak with Rondo active since his return.
Fourth quarter, :16.1, Celtics 94-89: Forget a solid game. Rondo is flat-out dominating. His strip on Oladipo, who was about to put in a layup, probably just won the game.
Rondo’s back, y’all.
Fourth quarter, :20.9, Celtics 94-89: Rondo creates an open jumper for Bass, who cans it, and everything seems to make sense. Then Glen Davis hits a three and nothing makes sense anymore.
After that sequence, Rondo inexplicably tried to run the clock down and attempt a three. He missed, which gives the Magic the ball back with a chance to make this interesting if they can score.
Fourth quarter, 1:22, Celtics 92-84: Only makes sense the Celtics would get some weird buckets in the clutch. Step-back jumper by Rondo and a toe-on-the-line two by Green? OK, then.
They also just got an 18-footer from Bass, so they’re not all shots that made Stevens yell, “Nononononon … yes!”
Fourth quarter, 2:54, Celtics 86-82: The Celtics can’t play a defensive possession much better than they just did. Coming back in transition, they matched up with mismatches all over the court. Bass was able to stay with Oladipo and force a tough shot, while Johnson prevented Harris from posting him up.
The stop was a big one, and might have been bigger when Johnson drained a corner three. But the refs called Johnson for being out of bounds before the shot, so possession reverts to Orlando.
Either way, Sullinger continues to play out of his mind. He drained a big three when the Celtics needed it to double a three-point edge, and he now has 21 points and 12 boards in a do-it-all performance.
Fourth quarter, 5:20, Celtics 81-76: Bradley and Rondo have found a kindred spirit in Johnson.
After Rondo hit a sweeping hook to turn a one-point advantage into three, Johnson skied for a defensive rebound over the much larger Kyle O’Quinn.
Rondo then found Bradley coming off a screen for a midrange jump shot to give the Celtics a little more space. The Celtics are 0-6 with Rondo in the lineup this season, but they could be stalking win No. 2.
Fourth quarter, 8:14, Celtics 77-70: It’s amazing what having a player like Rondo can do to keep a team’s composure. A Magic flurry closed the gap to five points, with the Celtics looking disjointed. But then Rondo got the ball and created a wide-open baseline look for Humphries, who knocked it down.
That sort of calming presence has been missing for the Celtics for most of the season. It’s back now, and the Celtics are positioned for their first win since Rondo’s return if they just keep executing like that.
End of third quarter, Celtics 71-64: With Rondo and Sullinger taking an extended rest, the Celtics were able to hold on to the lead. Bass, Humphries and Johnson just keep working, making plays out of nothing and preventing the Magic from getting any traction for a possible comeback.
Bass now has 15 points, matching Rondo’s team-high. Bayless has also hit some big shots, serving as the instant-offense scoring threat off the bench that has attracted the Celtics for years.
Third quarter, 3:44, Celtics 67-62: The Celtics are doing enough little things on offense to maintain their lead, with Sullinger and Bass both dropping jumpers and Bayless hitting a flashing Bradley for a layup to keep the Celts clicking.
On defense, it’s a different story. Green is too big of a drain, and he doesn’t offset his lack of defensive intensity with enough offense to justify him being on the court. When Sully had to step in to help against an Afflalo drive, Green gave no attempt to block out Vucevic, who rumbled in easily for a putback before Sully could recover.
Only by helping each other will the Celtics win a game against any team, even the Magic. They all seem to be doing that right now, except one.
Third quarter, 7:22, Celtics 59-55: Against an undersized front line of Sullinger and Bass, Vucevic is having a predictable amount of success. He may only be getting warmed up.
The Magic’s underrated young center has 12 points and nine boards, including back-to-back buckets to narrow Boston’s lead to four points. With Vucevic leading the way, the Magic have outscored the Celtics 10-5 since halftime.
Halftime, Celtics 54-45: Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger could be quite a combination, if either could ever get fully healthy. They’re showing what they can do today.
The Celtics built a lead as large as 12 points on the strength of a strong first half for the duo. Rondo has 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. Sully has 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting with six rebounds.
Together, they are helping overcome a tough showing by Jeff Green. The mercurial forward has missed five of the six shots he’s taken, and his only make was a transition 3-pointer after failing to cross halfcourt while his team attempted to defend a fastbreak.
Green’s body language has left a lot of be desired and his lapses have been inexcusable. After Brandon Bass found Rondo for a nice give-and-go layup, Nik Vucevic sprinted back up the court before Bass could recover. Green, on the wing, gave his teammate no help and let Vucevic score a layup over a scrambling Bass. His lackadaisical effort is a strong contrast when he’s on the court with Chris Johnson, who is playing like there is no tomorrow.
Arron Afflalo leads Orlando with 12 points, steadily on his way to his average of 20.0, as usual. The Magic are just turning the ball over too often to be successful. They have eight turnovers versus just nine assists, while the Celtics have just six turnovers against 14 assists on 22 field goals.
Second quarter, 5:32, Celtics 40-29: Jerryd Bayless, Phil Pressey and Avery Bradley aren’t exactly an All-Star three-guard attack, but they’re doing some interesting things. They’ve stretched out the Magic, who aren’t playing small, and have even helped extend Boston’s lead.
Bradley is checking Mo Harkless, the 6-foot-8 second-year forward. Bradley is giving up six inches in the matchup and is holding his own, which is key to such a lineup combination working for the Celtics.
Second quarter, 9:31, Celtics 31-23: Avery Bradley’s return means less playing time for Chris Johnson. It says everything about this season that that’s a bad thing.
Johnson earned another early call off the bench, as he has with his play throughout his two 10-day stints. He drained a 3-pointer over Arron Afflalo and tracked down an offensive rebound to keep a possession alive, so he’s doing some positive things.
He’s also gotten burnt by Afflalo on a backdoor cut as a result of some overzealous defense, but that’s to be expected. There’s a reason Johnson was in the D-League. He’s not a perfect player, but he’s been a breath of fresh air for a struggling Celtics club.
End of first quarter, Celtics 27-19: It might be because Rondo’s back and playing like Rondo, or it might be because Andrew Nicholson is still a little too green and ground-bound to give him much trouble.
For whatever reason, Brandon Bass is having himself a game. He leads the Celtics with nine points, attacking the paint and finishing nifty passes from Rondo. Led by Bass,the Celtics have burst into a comfortable lead — at least, it would be comfortable for any other team. For the Celtics, no lead is safe. But it’s a decent start.
First quarter, 5:36, game tied 12-12: Rajon Rondo is moving well and Brandon Bass is all over the place at both ends, but the Celtics have gone cold after a fast start. They sprinted out to an 8-2 lead but immediately gave away a 10-4 run to let Orlando pull even.
Not all of Orlando’s baskets have come against Jeff Green. It only seems that way. Tobias Harris has five points, having hit both his shot attempts, and Arron Afflalo used an ill-advised foul by Green while taking a 3-pointer to get on the board with three foul shots.
Still, Rondo looks sharp early — as sharp as he’s looked since he’s come back. He has four points, two assists and a rebound, plus he’s much more active on defense than he has been.
1:08 p.m.: Wallace’s status hasn’t been officially updated, but he was in the Celtics’ huddle during pregame introduction and he’s now on the bench in his warmup suit. It looks like he may play after missing the last two days to attend to a death in the family.
11:44 a.m.: Gerald Wallace may suit up today after all. The veteran forward, who has been away due to a death in the family, just arrived at TD Garden. It is unclear yet whether he will play.
11:35 a.m.: Vitor Faverni is getting used to the trip to Portland, Maine, to participate with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate there. From the looks of his stat lines during his recent two-game stay, he’s getting comfortable on the court, too.
“I thought he did some good things Friday; he played well [Saturday],” Stevens said. “The thing that you want out of that, No. 1, is to just get more game experience and No.2 to get up and down the court from a physical standpoint, and make sure you’re staying sharp from a playing standpoint. It’s great for him to get those extra minutes. … We’ll probably utilize that more over the next couple of months.”
Faverani played well in his two games with the Red Claws this weekend. He had 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks against the 87ers on Friday and had 20 points, 17 rebounds and six assists against the BayHawks on Saturday.
In three games with Maine this season, Faverani is averaging 16.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks in 31.3 minutes per game.
11:26 a.m.: Celtics coach Brad Stevens is looking forward to having his preferred starting backcourt together for just the fourth time all season, but he’s tempering expectations. Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley haven’t played together all that much, Stevens noted, due to injury struggles for both.
“They really haven’t gotten much time together in the last two years,” Stevens said. “I think it’ll be nice [to have both back] but I’m not expecting them to play like [Larry] Bird and [Kevin] McHale just yet. It’s something that takes a little bit of time to get the feel of, how they play best together, but I do think they like playing together, so it’s really good for them to now get a chance to do that.”
Bradley has no minutes restrictions, Stevens said. Rondo’s minutes will be up around the 30s again, but it could be a while before he gets back to the 40-plus he prefers.
Gerald Wallace, who left the team Friday after a death in the family, is still not with the team and is unlikely to be available. Vitor Faverani, who spent Friday and Saturday with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, is in the building and ready to play.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Avery Bradley has two big games to get ready for today.
Bradley, a Tacoma, Wash., native, will be rooting hard for his Seattle Seahawks in tonight’s Super Bowl. First, he has to take care of his day job with the Boston Celtics. After missing five games with a sprained ankle, Bradley is expected back in the lineup.
The Celtics (15-33) can use all the help they can get. They have lost 19 of their last 22 games, including a 101-90 decision against the Orlando Magic (13-35) in late January. The Magic have won two of their last five games, which amounts to a winning streak in a rough season for them.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 1 p.m.
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