ORLANDO – Orlando’s reign as the NBA’s 3-point percentage king came to an abrupt end Sunday night. The Celtics nearly removed the 3-point line from the Magic’s arsenal during a dominant 104-88 victory.
Boston’s league-leading defense marched into the Amway Center and suffocated an Orlando offense that had been nothing short of stellar through its first nine games of the season. The Magic scored only 88 points while shooting 20.7 percent from 3-point range and 36.3 percent from the field. These numbers arrived after the Magic entered the contest leading the league in 3-point percentage (42.1 percent) and ranking fifth in scoring (111.3 points per game).
“We made them do what we wanted them to do,” Marcus Smart of Boston’s defense.
And that was to miss – often.
Boston dominated the defensive end of the court for nearly the entirety of the game. Orlando did not shoot better than 42.3 percent from the field or make more than two 3-pointers in any of the four quarters.
The Celtics knew that they wanted to take away the 3-point shot from Orlando, and they did so with exceptional precision.
“We spent a lot of time over the course of the last couple of weeks, or however long its been since Training Camp, talking about how we can best defend the paint and the 3-point line,” said Brad Stevens. “Guys did a really good job again of flying around and challenging shots and making it tough, switching at the right time, all of that stuff.”
The result? A dominating defensive performance that extended Boston’s winning streak to a league-best eight games.
Containing an opposing team’s strength is a hefty challenge in the NBA. Outright removing it from an opposing team’s repertoire is almost unheard of.
The Celtics, however, were able to do exactly that Sunday night thanks to their lengthy list of long and talented defenders.
Frank Vogel, who had seen Boston’s defense on tape but got his first in-person look at it Sunday night, was wowed by what the C’s have to offer at that end of the court.
“They have elite defenders at a lot of positions,” Vogel said. “Both of their young wings are terrific with their length and athleticism. (Terry) Rozier and (Marcus) Smart come in and change the game. (Al) Horford is one of the most savvy and underrated defenders in the league.”
The coach went on to compliment Aron Baynes as well, and he might as well have continued right on down Boston’s entire roster. Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Shane Larkin are also high-level defenders, and Larkin in particular was outstanding during this contest.
Orlando, which had trailed by as many as 13 points, battled back to within five late in the third quarter. Stevens countered the Magic’s momentum by opening the fourth quarter with a fivesome of Larkin, Rozier, Smart, Ojeleye and Baynes.
That group limited Orlando to only two points on 1-for-5 shooting, including two misses on as many attempts from long range, over the first 3:33 of the final period. Larkin was at the front of Boston’s defensive wall during that stretch.
“I thought that Shane’s ability to pressure the ball in the fourth quarter kind of changed the course of the game for us,” said Horford, who notched a double-double with 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. “He really got after their point guards, really made them work, and I think that he set the tone for our group in the fourth quarter.”
Larkin may have set the tone for the final quarter, but the Celtics were great at the defensive end of the court all night long. So good, in fact, that they dethroned the league’s top 3-point shooting team while forcing its high-powered offense to struggle to breathe. The Magic now rank second in the league behind the Golden State Warriors in 3-point percentage, and seventh in scoring.
Orlando got a bitter taste of just how great Boston’s defense is, and it’s a defense that will only improve as time wears on.
Which has left some people, including Horford, wondering after the game, “If our offense ever catches up to our defense…”
We’ll finish that one for you, Al.
… the Celtics might become borderline unstoppable.