Late in the second quarter, Jameer Nelson went up for a floater, doing all he could to keep the Magic afloat in a poor offensive first half. The shot hit off the back iron and Paul Pierce went up for it grabbing the rebound. Nelson tried to be sneaky and make a play on the ball.
Only Pierce's elbow came down hard on Nelson's forearm. Nelson doubled over in pain as Boston ran to the other end of the floor and scored a layup. The Magic called timeout and Nelson went to the locker room, not returning to the game for the second half. Nelson is officially day-to-day with a bruise on his left forearm.
To the team though, it was another frustrating injury to a key player — a team that cannot afford to lose too many of these key players with all the depth and talent issues on this roster. The game became more frustrating as the Celtics tightened up on defense and found ways to squeeze into the Magic defense and take advantage of every mistake.
If Jameer Nelson's absence did not deflate Orlando, then Jeff Green's thunderous third-quarter dunk from the left baseline certainly did. It helped spark a Boston run that gave the team a comfortable double-digit lead after Orlando had cut the lead down to three.
Until an energetic young group off the bench helped cut into the lead, this was a runaway for the Celtics. A 97-84 Boston win at TD Garden on Friday night.
The "woe is me" attitude is certainly seemed to pervade as the Magic struggled defensively and seemed to get discouraged when the Celtics made their runs.
Whether it was Jeff Green flying down the lane on his way to scoring 17 points. Or whether it was Kevin Garnett establishing himself and scoring in the post — often over good defense — in scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Or whether it was Jason Terry or Courtney Lee hitting timely 3-pointers or Paul Pierce driving the lane, Boston was able to take apart the Magic's defense.
Orlando's offense simply could not find the rhythm and Boston largely kept Orlando outside the paint.
The Magic shot 37.9 percent from the floor and just 3 for 19 from beyond the arc. For parts of the game it was not for lack of good looks. The Magic missed a ton of open mid-range jumpers early on, establishing what this game was going to become.
Orlando had 52 points in the paint, getting some good work on the glass from Nikola Vucevic (14 points, 14 rebounds) and from rookie Andrew Nicholson (14 points, 10 rebounds, his first career double double). They really got the Magic going on early.
The bench again appeared to let Orlando down.
After keeping pace with the Celtics in the first quarter, the Magic could not get the bench going. E'Twaun Moore was the only player off the bench to score in the first half and for much of the second half. Until that final bench group came in, Moore was the only player to score off the bench.
Kevin Garnett was the main beneficiary, taking advantage of Orlando's weak defense to help the Celtics build a lead. Then Jeff Green and Courtney Lee seemed to get themselves going.
It was asking a lot of the Magic on a night when they were shooting so low against a team that works so well together defensively to keep up. And so that frustration continues for Orlando with another loss to add to the standings.
There were positives. Some pretty encouraging positives.
Vucevic and Nicholson established themselves well in the post. And the young group of Ish Smith, E'Twaun Moore, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn helped cut a 23-point lead down to 12 late in the fourth quarter. It was too little, too late. But their energy against a Celtics group that still had Lee and Green on the floor was a very encouraging sign.
O'Quinn turned in a career high 11 points in six minutes. He looked comfortable and confident posting up Fab Melo and stepping out and hitting a mid-range jumper. He also worked well cleaning up around the rim. His activity and energy was noticeable as was Ish Smith, who came up with a few steals and confidently ran the team.
The young guys are getting more opportunities to show what they can do and they took advantage of it tonight. Their time will come this season.
For now, though, Orlando still wants to see its veterans play and win games. The Magic are struggling to compete for a full 48 minutes. And with the bodies beginning to pile up, it is starting to make less sense to play the team's veterans ahead of the young players that could be a part of this team's long-term future.