Kim Klement/USA TODAY
Confidence might be hard to come by in close games when your team only has 10 wins and a less-than-sterling 3-14 record in games within five points in the final three minutes. The chances for victory seem to decrease and be too elusive when those opportunities come.
How do you step up and do what is needed to win these games and make the plays when it has come up short so many times — most recently in that triple overtime thriller against the Bulls on Wednesday?
Sometimes a team just has to survive the muck and do what it can, no matter how ugly. Again, with 10 wins in two, you take them anywhere you can get.
So to win the game on free throws and then a scrambling defensive possession, has to feel extremely gratifying.
Tobias Harris was the one who hit those two free throws after Kris Humphries fouled him going for a rebound following a missed Jameer Nelson 3-pointer. The Celtics then got Jeff Green the ball in the corner and a chance to drive toward the rim. He passed up an open shot and passed to Avery Bradley. Bradley chose to drive too and was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
As the Magic passed the halfway point of their season, they finally had a reason to celebrate — a 93-91 win over the Celtics at Amway Center on Sunday that snapped a 10-game losing streak.
“It was a struggle. Losing that many games in a row isn’t fun,” Victor Oladipo said. “You don’t go out there with the intention to lose, but things just don’t shake sometimes. We just brought it together and realized it’s going to take all of us in order to keep winning. We’ve just got to continue to keep growing throughout the whole process.”
Orlando got some stellar performances from just about every player — and there were only seven of them because of the matchups, according to Jacque Vaughn — to pull together and grab this ugly, gritty win.
Arron Afflalo, often defended by a strong and taller defender in Jeff Green or Gerald Wallace, led the team with 20 points and tied a career high with 13 rebounds. He made 7 of his 16 shots and two of his three 3-pointers to go along with six assists.
Harris, who hit the two big free throws to win the game, had 18 points and seven rebounds. Glen Davis added 17 points and seven rebounds. Jameer Nelson turned in another double double with 16 points and 10 assists. Kyle O’Quinn came off the bench for 10 points and nine rebounds.
Despite shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and committing 17 turnovers leading to 20 Celtics points, the Magic pulled together and made the plays necessary for a win.
“It was good for us,” Harris said. “It helps us. We know that a win like this will spark us as a team. Everybody was locked into the game and focused. It’s only going to help us going forward.”
There were six lead changes and nine ties in the fourth quarter alone as the game continued to yo-yo between the two teams. Every time the Magic looked to have control of the game a turnover or a missed shot enabled Boston to come back the other way and get a chance to tie the game back up.
Often, they were able to do so despite shooting 7 for 21 in the final 12 minutes. Boston went to the line to make 13 of 14 free throw attempts in the final quarter and scored eight points off five Orlando turnovers.
The game quickly became a grind-it-out game that teams have to find ways to execute and win. It was very much a growing experience.
“There were things we discussed last game about those intangibles,” Afflalo said. “Sometimes ti will show up in the state sheet, but sometimes it’s that energy, that effort and that drive from within to try and win the game.”
Orlando has spent much of the year stating that it is learning and growing. That is a big part of the rebuild for the Magic moving forward. Every little thing this team can learn helps it.
The Magic certainly got a lesson not only in closing games but in winning ugly too, sometimes a necessary feat.
The Celtics shot just 36.7 percent from the floor and 3 for 13 from beyond the arc. The Magic did a good job after the first quarter forcing the Celtics to take perimeter shots. Except for stretches when the Magic could not keep the Celtics off the foul line or could not get out of their own way with turnovers and other miscues.
Another slow start too seemed to have the Magic playing from behind again before a highly efficient 35-point second quarter brought the Magic into the lead and back into the game.
Orlando found a way.
The Magic were great on the offensive glass and on trying to keep the ball moving. They gave the Celtics a steady diet of pick and rolls and, while it did not work all the time, the Magic got it to work enough times when it mattered to free up open shots. Or at least get to the foul line.
And despite missing four free throws in the second half, Tobias Harris stepped up with the same focus he always has and calmly drained the game-winning free throws. It is those kinds of plays — along with Glen Davis and Victor Oladipo diving on the floor to save a loose ball rebound to give the Magic that chance to win the game — that separate wins from losses.
Those are the plays the Magic appear to be getting closer to making.
“You take probably our last three close games and you see the progression of maybe how bad we were in the first of those three, then you take the one in the middle and then you come to tonight where execution on the offensive end of the floor out of timeouts we got scores every time,” Jacque Vaughn said. “At least we executed and got to the foul line. We made winning plays at the end of the game. Glen diving on the floor and Vic diving on the floor, Glen getting a rebound — those are winning plays. So for us to be in that environment to go through Chicago — a three overtime game — that helped us tonight.”
The Magic made that progression and made those plays at that critical juncture. They earned the win.
It certainly does not have to be pretty when you are trying to get one any way you can.