The Magic nearly pulled off the improbable Saturday night in Philadelphia against Joel Embiid and the 76ers before falling just short on a potential game-clinching three-pointer by Terrence Ross that fell helplessly short at the buzzer.
The poorly executed final sequence followed a game-tying opportunity at the free throw stripe by Aaron Gordon that missed the bottom of the cylinder. The Magic had multiple opportunities to win in regulation after trailing by double digits for much of the contest. It took a record-tying 17 three-pointers for the Sixers and their most productive bench scoring performance since Kyle Korver in 2007 (JJ Redick with 31 points).
Next up the Orlando Magic head to the TD Garden to face what may be the very best team in the Eastern Conference. In the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought the LeBron James-led Cavaliers to seven games without All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
They are all healthy now, however, and they look to have the pieces necessary to challenge the Golden State Warriors with expansive depth and potential at each position.
At 2-1, the Celtics comfortably defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on opening night, 105-87. They fell to the Toronto Raptors, 113-101, but would rebound against the Knicks, 103-101.
The Celtics most dangerous scorer is the second-year man and third overall pick Jayson Tatum, who is averaging 20 points per game thus far on 50% shooting.
The Celtics, though, are dangerous everywhere. From All-Stars in Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward, to the aforementioned Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Daniel Theis, the Magic will have their work cut out for them.
One point of weakness for the Celtics has been offensive efficiency. They have failed to exceed 40% from the field, other than opening night, when they shot just 43%. If the Magic can improve their defensive play, lock down the paint from cutters and dribble penetration, they should be able to limit what the Celtics do around the perimeter where they have averaged just above 33%. The Celtics have struggled to get ‘easy points’ scoring just 35 points per game in the paint to go along with sub-adequate three-point shooting.
But the Magic will have to force the offense to outrace the Cs on the scoreboard and the Magic have suffered from their own deficiencies in that regard, having scored seven points in the second quarter on Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets. The Magic have also struggled to get offensive production from the bench at the point guard position and need to improve play in that regard to avoid runs by opposing benches.
Will Evan Fournier repeat his scoring performance against the Sixers when he tallied 31 points or regress to the mean? Will Nikola Vucevic stay locked in after his remarkable triple-double and defense of Joel Embiid? What can the Magic expect from Terrence Ross and Jonathan Isaac?
Head coach Steve Clifford was less than pleased with the game ending sequence of events on Saturday night but has to be pleased by the effort of his group in Philadelphia. The Magic look to be improved from their 25 game winning unit of a year ago, but in order to prove it, they’ll need to close games when given the opportunity.