With Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger now out for the season, the Boston Celtics will need all hands on deck nightly to keep their spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Well, the Celtics got that concerted effort on Friday night, as they defeated the Orlando Magic, 97-84, behind a strong defensive performance.
Though both sides were competitive throughout the game, Orlando's struggles with its shots were apparent from the opening tip. The Magic went through multiple extended periods without a field goal in the first quarter, putting themselves in a 25-18 hole after the first 12 minutes.
It did not get much better in the second quarter, either. Orlando was able to keep Boston to a meager 21 points with most of its starters on the bench but was only able to score 17 of its own. The Celtics took a 46-35 lead into the halftime break and felt like they were in command throughout the early going.
After the break, the upstart Magic were able to keep the game within reach. They drew within single digits multiple times throughout the third quarter, thanks mostly to the brilliant play of Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson on the inside.
Vucevic finished Friday's contest with 14 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, continuing right where he left off in January. Nicholson also put together a double-double while getting his first extended minutes in nearly a month.
Nevertheless, it was all for naught. Anytime Orlando looked as if it was getting close, Boston went on a quick run to pull away.
Leading the charge for the Celtics was Paul Pierce, who once again asserted himself as the main ball-distributor with Rondo out. The Celtics forward had 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists Friday night, putting together his third straight double-double.
Elsewhere, Jeff Green had a game-high 17 points as one of six Boston players to score in double figures. Friday night serves as the Celtics' third straight win since Rondo's injury and their first since learning about Sullinger's back ailment.
Though Doc Rivers would certainly prefer to have all of his players in the lineup, it seems like Boston is thriving on adversity—for now.
Player of the Game: Paul Pierce (SF, Boston Celtics)
While he's thrived with increased ball-handling responsibilities thus far, one has to wonder how much longer Pierce can sustain his efficiency in a point-forward type role. For now, though, Pierce seems to be thriving.
This was his second game out of the past three where he flirted with a triple-double, which is a feat the Celtics will continually need until they find a replacement guard.
What's Next for the Magic?
The 14-32 Magic will continue their road trip Saturday night in a clash against the Milwaukee Bucks.
What's Next for the Celtics?
While the 23-23 Celtics get a night off to rest, their next contest will be a doozy, as they take on the Los Angeles Clippers at TD Garden.