David Manning/USA TODAY
All good things must come to an end.
They especially must come to an end when you shoot 39.8 percent from the floor, miss 10 of 29 free throws (but, hey at least there were 29 free throw attempts) and commit 20 turnovers which turn into 25 Celtics points.
Boston came back from a 12-point Orlando lead and scored a big bucket from Kelly Olynyk late to take a late lead. Arron Afflalo, with the Magic down by three, hit a jumper from the corner, but his foot was (clearly) over the line. It counted for only two points and reminded me of Opening Night 1996 when Gerald Wilkins appeared to have a game-tying 3-pointer but the officials ruled his foot was on the line and the Magic were upset in the season opener.
It happened again and the Magic lost 91-89 at Amway Center to the Celtics on Friday, snapping their three-game win streak.
Turnovers will undo any offense
The Magic were not going to be an offensive juggernaut every night. This is a team that lacks a true go-to scorer, although Nikola Vucevic will make us think otherwise after scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds (really dominating the first quarter offensively with 12 points in the quarter when the Magic were playing at their best). The margin for error, even when taking 29 free throws, is still relatively thin.
Orlando's improved defense has certainly alleviated some of the concerns of this hole in the roster. The Magic have the faith that they did not have last year that they can keep the score down when they are going through scoring droughts.
Still 20 turnovers turning into 25 points is not going to win many games. Even with a defense that is playing so well.
Jameer Nelson had seven of the team's 20 turnovers, not a good sign from the team's starting point guard. He had seven assists to somewhat counteract that, but it usually feels like a turnover hurts more than an assist helps. Vucevic, after that 12-point first quarter, had only two more points and turned the ball over four times.
The Celtics swarmed him better and got hi off his spots as the Magic struggled to get him the ball.
Boston, like Orlando, is a scrappy team that will play hard and bring a lot of energy. The way the team swarmed on defense was not always perfect, but it puts pressure on the offense and requires them to match the intensity and execute. The Magic are getting to a point where they can overcome some of these shortcomings, but not all of them. This is a young team still learning the way to execute.
The turnovers, 10 of them came in the second half for 11 points and six came in the final quarter, certainly did not help.
Defense is still strong
All in all though, Orlando has to be very happy that its defense could keep the team in the game.
Boston did not get the best shots and it is certainly not the best team. And Orlando had some defensive issues and miscommunications — Kelly Olynyk waltzed down the middle of the lane a few times. But overall, it was another solid defensive performance.
At least the numbers bear that out.
The Celtics shot 35.8 percent for the game and just 2 for 14 from beyond the arc. This was the first game in Magic history that they lost when giving up less than 36 percent shooting and less than 20 percent shooting from beyond the arc. This was the 19th time in 25 years the Magic have held an opponent below 36 percent shooting and 20 percent from beyond the arc. So, the Magic played some pretty good defense.
Those are purposefully narrow parameters, but it shows how rare this kind of defensive performance was. And how even more rare a loss under such circumstances are.
Nevertheless, the Magic have now held four straight opponents below 40 percent shooting. This is the big stat defensively for the moment. Teams are finding it tough to score against Orlando over the course of a 48-minute game. And the fact that THIS Magic team is the one to hold that distinction regarding opponent field goal percentage is all the more impressive.
The defense was far from perfect tonight. There were some over rotations and the team was scrambling a bit more. Perhaps some of Boston's offensive problems were their own. The Celtics too lack a go-to scorer and are subject to scoring spurts and scoring droughts.
Boston got a lot of its best offensive opportunities in transition. That falls a lot on the offense, but also on the defense adjusting and getting back in time.
Last year the Magic were 2-13 in games where neither team scored more than 95 points. Even though Orlando lost tonight, you get the feeling the Magic will fare much better in these type of slog-it-out games in the future.
What's up Jameer?
Jameer Nelson is one of the more veteran players on the team. But the good thing about him is that the Magic can always trust him to provide a consistent stat line. It may not be the prettiest one, but he is consistent. Especially at the point guard position.
So far this season, Orlando has been a bit unsure what to expect out of Nelson.
Tonight, he scored 12 points and dished out seven assists, but made only four of his 15 shots and had the aforementioned seven turnovers.
Nelson is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 39.3 percent from the floor. His assist numbers are still a solid 6.6 assists per game and his turnovers are in line with his recent averages — 2.8. It is a small sample size undoubtedly. Still, Nelson's play has been a bit underwhelming.
That is OK. He is the captain and he knows when he needs to take charge more and when to hang back. Right now seems like a good time for him to hang back some. Vucevic is playing well, Afflalo is playing well and many others are too. Nelson's time will come.
The question has to be asked though whether it will come when needed. It seemed to be needed tonight with Vucevic struggling and Nelson struggled most with turnovers.