Going into Monday night’s game against the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic led the season series 2-1 with neither team being able to win at home.
It would be very impressive for the Magic to take down the Celtics in three out of four games and win the season series. It would be a sign of the team’s overall growth and focus. More importantly, it would be a sign of this group’s potential to compete against the very best this league has to offer.
This team’s potential has been sitting out in the open for the longest time now. After a blowout loss in Washington on Saturday, this is the kind of game that continues to show how everything is changing for this franchise.
That is exactly what ended up happening. The Magic got the win over the Celtics 113-98 at Amway Center in an impressive defensive performance in front of a sold-out crowd.
The Orlando Magic turned in an impressive showing as they buckled down defensively and stopped the Boston Celtics’ win streak to win the season series with the league’s best team.
The Magic raced ahead on several occasions, controlling the game against the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics for much of the game.
In the first half, they got a great start from their starting lineup. They got a huge energy lift from Jonathan Isaac’s return, his first game back in more than two years. They got a big push from Cole Anthony’s 13 points off the bench in the first half.
The Celtics are an elite team and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown helped erase a 14-point deficit in the first half to take a brief lead.
But Orlando had an answer.
The Magic rebuilt their lead in the third quarter and held on for the win. Isaac proved his value in his short stint on the court, recording two 3-pointers and a steal that led to a Paolo Banchero dunk in the third quarter to help Orlando regain its distance. Banchero led the team in points and capped off a 10-0 run for 3:41 late in the fourth quarter to help the Magic pull away.
Wendell Carter dropped 21 points along with 11 rebounds and Franz Wagner scored 15 while also coming up with a clutch steal late in the game.
For the Celtics, the usual suspects, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, had it going with 26 each.
Monday Night MVP: Jonathan Isaac
Monday’s MVP could have gone to a couple of players.
Cole Anthony helped build the first-half momentum with captivating and exciting runs down the court in transition — in one sequence blocking a shot on 7-footer Luke Kornet before racing to the other end of the floor for a lay-up and then in another getting a lob from Franz Wagner following a Bol Bol block.
Paolo Banchero continued his scoring ways hitting tough jumpers over the defense, setting a solid tone physically in the opening moments by getting to the foul line and finishing the game with a flourish. And Wendell Carter added a double-double.
But Jonathan Isaac making his return takes the cake.
It may seem like a guy who played 10 minutes and scored the fifth most on the team does not deserve it. His 10 points and 4-for-7 shooting were impactful and it was clear that his presence spooked the Boston Celtics some even though Isaac is certainly not running on all cylinders.
But to a lot of fans, and many experts, Isaac had become an afterthought. And being able to put in quality minutes against one of the best teams in the league is impressive.
It might not be unrealistic to expect him to slide into the rotation as the backup big man along with Bol Bol and Moe Wagner. Especially when Mo Bamba did not enter the game.
Isaac did not look like a player who missed more than two years. He fit right in and should continue to get better as he builds more consistency and comfort at the NBA level. That is what happened in this game as he made a huge impact in the second half for Orlando to build its lead.
It is no secret this team goes where its two young stars go. And they have each come into their own during the new year.
Prior to Monday night, Franz Wagner had been averaging 24.8 points per game in his last five games. That includes 29-, 26- and 30-point performances where he shot better than 50 percent from the field in each game. Orlando went 2-1 in those games.
Wagner continues to be a big impactor and someone who positively impacts many of the Magic’s best lineups. And while he did not have a big scoring impact in this one, scoring 15 points, he added seven rebounds and six assists to further boost the Magic.
For Paolo Banchero, the teams leading scorer, it has been slightly down the last part of this month.
He has not reached 20 points since the Jan. 7 matchup against the Golden State Warriors. In the games he has eclipsed that mark since December, the Magic are 10-4. Banchero is a big factor in the Magic’s wins.
It was good to see him break out of that funk and break through the double- and triple-teams he is seeing more and more. Banchero scored 23 points to lead the Magic in this one.
It is certainly obvious, but a lot rests on the shoulders of these 20-somethings. And the only way the Magic make the postseason is if they can play well down the stretch.
Jonathan Isaac finally got back onto the court in an Orlando Magic uniform.
It was his first game back on the bench after his stint with the Lakeland Magic and the first back from a torn ACL back in August 2020.
It will be interesting to see him get more playing time after Monday but knowing the Orlando Magic medical staff, they willl continue to take it slow.
And rightfully so. Prior to Monday, Isaac had not played in the NBA for two and a half years.
As far as the team goes, the Magic will continue this critical home stretch, taking on the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday before heading to Miami to face the Miami Heat on Friday and closing out Saturday against the Chicago Bulls at Amway Center.
These are key games for the team’s postseason chase before the Magic take to the road next week.
But luckily for Orlando, not only does the team get to make up some ground in the standings, it is a much better home than away team. The Magic’s record on the road is 6-17 while their record at home is 12-12.
If they can take advantage of these next few games the Magic will be right back in the play-in chase.