Orlando Magic Grades: Boston Celtics 117, Orlando Magic 116

Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) shoots the ball over Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) shoots the ball over Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic went toe-to-toe with the best team in the Eastern Conference and never blinked, falling a layup short of stealing a road victory.

The Orlando Magic were in the middle of a frantic run of possessions to end the game but kept coming up with the stop they needed to maintain a one-point game. As Jae Crowder‘s 3-pointer rattled out and Elfrid Payton grabbed the rebound, he quickly looked at the bench. One player was calling for timeout.

But Orlando was going to embrace that chaos and push the pace. They were going to go right back at the Boston Celtics, the top team in the Eastern Conference for now. There would be no time to breathe.

Payton got down the court and set up his pick and roll with Nikola Vucevic. He came around the screen and stared down Amir Johnson, driving right at him.

With how Payton has played since the All-Star Break, trusting him certainly seemed like the right decision. He spent good chunks of Friday’s game driving to the basket and creating for others, tallying a career-high 15 assists.

Payton will wish he could have had two more points. Payton drove right at Johnson and got all the way to the basket. Perhaps feeling or expecting content, he missed his shot over Johnson and the shot fell no good. The Celtics held on for an 117-116 win over the Magic at TD Garden on Friday, sending the Magic to a hard-fought defeat.

Payton and Aaron Gordon and, really, the entire team did all they could to get the win, taking a double-digit lead early behind Aaron Gordon’s fiery play — he scored 20 of his 32 points in the first half.

Orlando can likely point to little plays throughout the fourth quarter that cost them the game. Terrence Ross had a rushed 3-pointer on the penultimate possession with the team down one that was a bit of a head scratcher. The Magic struggled to get shots consistently and struggled to corral Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas throughout the fourth quarter.

Orlando had plenty of possessions that were ragged in transition. There were plenty of missed opportunities. That is how games are won or lost in the end.

Coach Frank Vogel told his team to hold their heads high once again after the game. It is disappointing to lose and it still hurts, but Vogel lauded his team’s “competitive spirit” and effort throughout the game. This was a strong effort against one of the league’s best team.

They have the chance to do it again and pick up a win against a considerably weaker — but dangerous — Brooklyn Nets team.

ELFRID PAYTON. A-. Elfrid Payton continues his torrid pace and attack on the Orlando Magic’s record books with each near-triple-double performance. His triple-doubles are becoming regular now, a product of the increased spacing the Magic have created for him. Payton is getting to the basket at will and orchestrating the Magic’s offense on a string.<p>Payton finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and a career-high 15 assists. That accurately describes the impact he had all game. He was great with the ball, finding the right man all night. This is just what he has done since the break.</p><p>There was little wrong with Payton’s game. He gave back some of it guarding Isaiah Thomas, always a tough cover anyway. That is picking nits though. The Magic tried a lot of switching to corral Thomas, who scored 35 points. When Payton had the ball in his hands, good things typically happened. He made the Magic a far better team and set the tone for the team’s ball movement and energy.</p>. PG. Orlando Magic

Every once in a while, Aaron Gordon starts to simmer. He gets hot and starts making jumpers and pull-ups and 3-pointers. Add that to more general activity around the basket, and that is the typical recipe for Gordon to put in a big scoring game.<p>That is exactly what happened Friday. Gordon reminded everyone of his immense talent and why he can be a really special player. This is the game where Gordon looks like the franchise-cornerstone fourth overall pick.</p><p>He scored 20 of his 32 points in the first half, not only hitting that jumper but being extremely active around the basket for putbacks. He recorded 16 rebounds in addition to his offensive contributions. if anything, the Magic needed to go to Gordon more. He was salivating driving on <strong><a rel=. F. Orlando Magic. AARON GORDON. A

C. The Orlando Magic still have a problem late in games, though. Instead of feeding the hot hand, the Magic offense will revert into pick and rolls involving <strong><a rel=. C. Orlando Magic. NIKOLA VUCEVIC

The up-and-down ride with Terrence Ross continues. And that was no different within Friday’s game.<p>Ross had his moments where he took over in scoring 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting. His quick trigger and fluid shot motion gets him good looks in tight windows. And he can make them with some regularity. For much of the second quarter when he was with the second unit, he carried the team. He was the hot hand for a long time.</p><p>But he can go cold very quickly. And the same shots that looked so good early can turn awry. It is good he is being aggressive and the Magic need that. But he is still learning when to enact it. Throw in four turnovers and Ross is still getting himself comfortable in his role.</p>. G/F. Orlando Magic. TERRENCE ROSS. C+

B+. The Boston Celtics are the best team in the Eastern Conference as the standings are right now. And they play like it most of the time. isaih Thomas is a flamethrower who get shot in a hurry and can turn any game around on his own. He scored 35 points for the game and carried the Celtics through good portions of the game.<p>Their offense is varied and balanced too. Jae Crowder is as dangerous as anyone and he put in a good effort as <strong><a rel=. 49-27. 1st East. BOSTON CELTICS