BOSTON – When Tyler Zeller got the call that he was going into the game – his first in nearly a month – he didn’t waste any time.
Minutes have been scarce for him this season, so he knew he had to make an impact if he wanted to stay out there.
Twenty-six seconds after checking in, he had a reverse lay-up.
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And within the last 39 seconds of the first quarter he had another lay-up and a driving floater as part of an eight-points-in-five-minutes kind of start.
Zeller’s fast start was just part of an impressive performance by the Celtics as they pulled away for a comfortable 128-98 win over the Orlando Magic.
There were several players who delivered impressive performances, like Isaiah Thomas’ game-high 21 points which was the 30th straight game he had 20 or more points – a feat that had not been done by a Celtic since Kevin McHale in 1986 – three years before Thomas was even born.
But few stood out as much as Zeller’s strong performance after having missed his previous 11 games with sinus issues that at times made him disoriented and light-headed.
He finished with 10 points while making his first five shots from the field.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart was impressed with Zeller’s contributions, especially considering it was his first game since Dec. 29 at Cleveland.
Having had to come back from injuries himself, Smart knows how challenging Friday’s game must have been for Zeller after having not played for such a long time previously.
“It’s hard,” Smart said. “All the conditioning that you do to try and get ready, it’s nothing like actually being in game-like condition. It’s nothing like getting out there, running up and down.”
But it certainly looked that way for Zeller; well at least for a half.
“Second half I started to get a little tired and worn down,” Zeller acknowledged. “But it was good I got to go up and down and kind of get back in that game flow, see a lot of those actions, and be able to make adjustments tomorrow (versus Milwaukee).”
But it seemed the Magic were in need of making an adjustment on Zeller who came out red-hot shooting the ball.
“Once I made the first one it felt great,” said Zeller who wound up shooting 5-for-9 from the field. “After not playing for a while, don’t know exactly how long it’s been but it’s been a while, so just seeing that first one go in it felt good.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Zeller has been ready to play in the last couple of games, but Stevens said he opted to go in a different direction.
“They were kind of tough matchups,” Stevens said. “I probably should have played him some of the Washington game but the Rockets game you’re very rarely playing more than two bigs.”
But against the Magic whose frontline consists of Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and 7-footer Nikola Vucevic, Stevens anticipated he would need to call upon Zeller.
“I thought tonight was going to be a good night for him,” said Stevens who added, “probably benefitted a little bit from Al (Horford) not playing (because of a groin injury) and took advantage of it.”
Stevens acknowledged Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic was a player that concerned him greatly prior to tip-off.
“And then I thought when Tyler came in he made things harder on him, at least initially,” Stevens said. “Sometimes that happens too, where you could come in, you’re fresh, after seven minutes or so the other guy is starting to wear down in his first stint. And I thought Tyler did a great job right out the gate.”