Kemba Walker returned from the oblique strain that had kept him on the bench for the last five games to lead the Boston Celtics to a much-needed 132-96 win over the Orlando Magic. Walker led the way with 32, Jayson Tatum added 27 and the C’s led wire to wire to move into the 6-seed in the East as they continue to dance up and down the standings with the Miami Heat.
This game was complete domination from Boston from start to finish. If you tuned in a few minutes late like I did, you had already missed the C’s jumping out to a lead they would never relinquish. Within the first eight minutes of play, Boston held a 24-7 lead as their defense was suffocating on Orlando’s shooters. While the Celtics generated quality look after quality look on the offensive end, the Magic struggled to even get shots on the rim. The first quarter of this game was summed up best by this two possession sequence midway through the quarter.
Basically, the Magic just played lazy, and the Celtics capitalized. While it’s easy to say “well if the Magic are going to give them easy steals and transition layups, of course they’re going to win easily”, that hasn’t been the case with this Boston team. They’ve played quite a few games against bad, bad teams this year, and many of them have been way too close or even turned into losses, including their embarrassing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder recently.
That’s why it was so encouraging when the Magic closed the gap to five points near the end of the second quarter that Boston’s stars took over and kicked the door shut in Orlando’s face. After Mo Bamba made a pair of free throws with 4:05 left in the half to make the score 46-41, Boston went on a 17-4 run to end the half and effectively put the game away. Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker scored 13 of those 17 points, stepping up at the only point the Magic made any sort of run to deny them and basically seal the deal before halftime. That run gave Boston a 63-45 lead going into the break, and the Magic never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.
Evan Fournier was really solid for Boston in this win, which is a welcome sight after he revealed how hard COVID-19 hit him and continues to impact his play. He scored 18 points on efficient 8-14 shooting. I had always thought of Fournier as more of a shooter than a scorer, but he made a couple nice plays in the paint to get buckets for the C’s that I didn’t know he was capable of. Boston is going to need Fournier to be a capable scoring option to lead the second unit down the stretch once Jaylen Brown returns, so him getting going these last few games is a potentially huge development.
Kemba Walker needed a game like tonight. There’s no debating that this year has been hard for Kemba, from struggling to get going in the first part of the season, to missing back-to-backs to rest his knee, to the various other ailments that have caused him to miss time. He still holds the key to this team’s postseason success, as his ability to break opposing defenses down off the dribble is unmatched by anybody else on the roster. And if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both healthy, having a player only a few years removed from an All-NBA team is a nice luxury to have. While Walker hasn’t resembled that All-NBA level player for most of the year, if he can provide anything close to All-Star level play, or even a little less than that, it raises the ceiling of this team immeasurably. He’s had single game outbursts like this at other points this season, and the struggle has been to keep it going. If he can, though, Celtics fans would surely welcome it.
There’s no way we could recap this game without talking about the play of the night, made by Celtics center Tacko Fall. Last year, Fall was little more than a promotional, last man on the bench player for Boston, brought in only for mop-up duty or if the game needed a jolt of energy. This year, he’s shown that he actually has some skill.
That’s a pretty good post move. Sure, it helps that his legs are approximately 18 feet long, but the reaction on the bench was amazing. Watch the footwork once his pivot foot is established- his right heel touches the free throw line and then he still finishes with a finger-roll layup directly at the rim. That’s 15 FEET he covered without leaving his pivot foot. Insane. In what has been a disappointing season from the outside looking in, it’s still clear that the team likes each other in moments like these.
On the scoresheet, this is a win over a team that is well out of the playoffs and is surely just counting the days until their season is done. However, Boston needs every win they can get, and this one certainly came in decisive manner. Blowouts in this league aren’t easy to come by, but they can be very useful for resting players. No Celtic played more than Jayson Tatum’s 31 minutes, and for Tatum that basically constitutes an off night as he has been constantly playing 35+ minutes this year.
Boston needs to keep winning, though, and they’ve got another soft matchup against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night that they need to take advantage of. After that is a two-game set with the Miami Heat that is likely going to decide the final order between those two and who gets to avoid the play-in tournament. Riding a winning streak and bringing some momentum into that series would be nice, so hopefully the C’s can get it done in Chicago on Friday.
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