Celtics-Magic preview: A tougher test than you may expect


Celtics-Magic preview: A tougher test than you may expect

NBA followers aren't sure what to make of the Orlando Magic’s surprisingly strong start to this season.

However, Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn’t the least bit surprised atvhow well the Magic (6-3) are playing.

Indeed, the Celtics (7-2) are in for what should be a much tougher matchup than most would have anticipated at the start of the season. 

Boston comes into today's game looking to extend its league-best winning streak to eight in a row against an Orlando team that has been arguably the biggest surprise in the East after the first couple weeks of the season. 

MORE: Winning is Horford's focus, not putting up big numbers

The play of Orlando is reminiscent of what Stevens remembers from the last time the Celtics faced the Magic on March 31.

After having blown out the Magic in their earlier meetings last season, the Celtics found themselves in quite the nail-biter before ultimately coming away with a 117-116 win behind Isaiah Thomas' game-high 35 points. 

Not only were most of the starters from that game back with Orlando this year, but the style of play that they implemented at that time which gave Boston problems, is similar to what’s working for the Magic right now.

“They had us beat in the Garden,” Stevens told NBC Sports Boston. “We ended up winning by a point. They started the lineup that they start now. And it’s fast; it’s skilled.”

Among the early season standouts for the Magic has been Aaron Gordon, a player who was among the handful of players on the Celtics’ radar in the 2014 draft.

The fourth-year wing is averaging career highs in just about every statistical category, including points (19.3 per game), rebounds (8.4) and assists (2.3).

But the statistic that has everyone doing a double-take is Gordon connecting on 58.1 percent of his 3-pointers this season.

“Gordon is shooting the ball ridiculously well from the four (power forward) and they’re really spreading (Nikola) Vucevic out to play a role like Al (Horford) plays for us,” Stevens said.

Horford, who is shooting a career-best 46.7 percent from 3-point range, has steadily improved his long-range shooting from the center position.

Vucevic began to make strides along those lines last year when he took 75 three-pointers after having taken just 26 total in his first five seasons.

The 7-foot center has already taken 38 three-pointers in just nine games this season, and is shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range.

Young breakout players. A center who shoots 3’s. A team that’s off to a fast start which has exceeded the expectations of many.

Sound familiar?

“There’s a lot of similarities in how we both try to play,” Stevens said. “And they’ve done an unbelievable job starting out the gates. It’s going to be a tough game.”


Stars, studs and duds: Kyrie Irving stands tall

Stars, studs and duds: Kyrie Irving stands tall

As NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper talked with Kyrie Irving following his best performance as a Boston Celtic, you could hear the chants “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” from the crowd behind him.
Considering the way Irving played on Monday night, that’s not just a case of fandemonium people!
Irving delivered a performance that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, tallying 47 points in leading Boston to a 110-102 overtime win at Dallas.
With the win, Boston has extended its winning streak to 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
While there were lots of Celtics who contributed to the victory, no one stood as tall as Irving who tallied 10 of Boston’s 16 points in overtime.
“We had to claw, fight our way back for this one,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper. “But we had to earn it. These guys, the Dallas Mavericks, they gave us their best shot.”
And the Celtics countered with their best shot – Irving.
Even before the edge-of-the-cliff finish, Irving was in a rhythm that made it absolutely clear that he was going to have a big night scoring the ball.
“We just have to continue to get better from this point,” Irving said.
And as far as those “M-V-P” chants?
“It’s pretty awesome,” Irving said of the chants. “But we got a long way to go.”
Here’s a look at Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-102 overtime win over Dallas which extends Boston’s winning streak to 16 in a row which is the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

Kyrie Irving

This wasn’t even close, folks. Irving kept the Celtics afloat for most of the game, then guided them to victory with a dominant performance. He finished with 47 points, the most he has scored as a Boston Celtic. And on a night when most of the team struggled to make shots, they needed everything he had to offer.
Harrison Barnes

He had a chance to win it in regulation, but failed to knock down the game-winning shot. Still, Barnes had a strong game for the Mavericks while finishing with 31 points and six rebounds.
Jaylen Brown

Kyrie Irving’s backcourt mate had yet another strong performance for the Celtics. He had a near double-double of 22 points and nine rebounds.
Jayson Tatum

Don’t let the 15-point total fool you. Tatum was a major factor in Boston’s comebacks with his ability to finish in transition and his defense down the stretch on Barnes gave the Celtics a shot as the game went into overtime.
J.J. Barea

The former Northeastern star was a huge spark off the bench for Dallas, tallying 16 points.
Marcus Smart

You can count me among those who cringed at a lot of those shots Marcus Smart took – and missed. Despite going 3-for-15 from the field, Boston doesn’t win this game without Marcus Smart. He made hustle plays defensively. He set teammates up for easy scores. And as bad as Smart shot the ball, he did make one of the biggest shots of the night, a 3-pointer that cut Dallas’ lead to 96-94 with 1:23 to play.

Al Horford

He poked the ball free from Harrison Barnes late in the game which was a huge play, but for the most part Horford’s imprint on the game was non-existent. He missed four of his five shots from the field, tallying 3 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.
Dennis Smith Jr.

He is an explosive guard and scored six points in the first couple of minutes. From there, he was a non-factor, finishing with eight points on 4-for-16 shooting and maybe most significant, being nothing more than a cool breeze defensively as Kyrie Irving blew by him time and time again.


Kyrie's 47 points help Celtics push winning streak to 16 games

Kyrie's 47 points help Celtics push winning streak to 16 games

Flat. Round. Octagon.
It doesn’t matter.
This is Kyrie Irving’s world, one in which he can do some pretty amazing things like lead the Boston Celtics to an improbable comeback that finally ended with a 110-102 overtime win for Boston.
Irving delivered as near-flawless a game scoring the ball as we’ve seen since he became a Boston Celtic.
He finished with a game-high 47 points, which included 10 in overtime as the Celtics (16-2) extended their winning to 16 straight which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
Jumpers. 3-pointers. Lay-ups.
Irving gave the Celtics anything and everything they needed down the stretch for what might have been the toughest win for them during this amazing stretch of success.
We have seen the Celtics blaze their way down the comeback trail before, and Monday was no exception. They closed out the fourth quarter with a 17-7 run over the final 5:22 to force the overtime session.
Boston led for most of the first half, but Dallas opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run to lead 58-53, and continued to surge ahead before the third finally ended with the Mavericks pulling ahead to the fourth quarter with a 77-69 lead.
The Mavericks continued to control the game for most of the fourth quarter and took their first double-digit lead, 83-72, following a driving lay-up by Yogi Ferrell which led to Brad Stevens calling a time-out with 9:19 to play.
Boston’s struggles in the second half were in sharp contrast to what the Celtics were able to do in the first two quarters.

The Celtics went on a 25-8 run in the first quarter which set the tone for the C's 34-22 lead at the end of the first.

Boston went to its bench and they did what we’ve seen them do a lot this season, missing a bunch of wide open to lightly contested shots from the field.

Stevens has been looking for them to develop some kind of flow offensively, and probably kept them on the floor longer than he should have.

Boston’s double-digit lead was all but wiped out in the second quarter, with the Mavericks coming within 44-43 following a 3-poiner by Wesley Matthews. The Celtics managed to take a slimmer-than-expected 53-49 lead into the half.