The major storyline of Friday’s game between the Boston Celtics and the visiting Orlando Magic was the return of Robert Williams III.
Boston’s center had missed the first 29 games after undergoing knee surgery in September, and his season debut energized the home crowd before the game even began.
The night, however, belonged to Orlando as a 117-109 win spoiled the Celtics’ return from the West Coast for a seven-game homestand to finish off 2022.
The teams play the back end of a rare two-game series on Sunday afternoon in Boston as the Magic look to extend their five-game winning streak, their longest since 2020.
“We only won one game on the road all year, so we felt like (Friday) was the game to kind of prove to ourselves we’re rolling right now,” Orlando rookie Paolo Banchero said. “We’re proud of ourselves.”
On Friday, Moe Wagner scored a season-high 25 points, younger brother Franz had 19, and Banchero contributed 20 for already the 18th 20-point game of his career.
The Magic shot 46.2 percent from the floor, had a 53-38 rebounding edge and registered 20 second-chance points to Boston’s six against the best offensive team in the NBA.
“I’m so proud of these guys for executing what we’ve asked them to do,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Making sure we take care of the paint, rebound the basketball. Obviously we can do better with defending without fouling, but for these guys to hone in on a game plan and stick with it, we’re so proud of what they’re doing.”
The Magic played Friday while significantly short-handed, but Wendell Carter Jr. (right plantar fascia strain), Gary Harris (strained right hamstring) and Chuma Okeke (left knee soreness) are all on the road trip.
Friday was just Orlando’s second road win of the season. The Magic are now 2-11 away from home.
The Celtics still have the league’s best record, but they are just 1-3 in their last four games. The major issue was not simply a tough offensive night.
“They played harder,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said on Friday. “They made shots. We did not make shots that we usually make tonight. But overall … it’s not the non-shot making, it’s the effort. We’ll pick it up on Sunday, for sure.”
Williams slammed down a couple of his signature dunks on the way to posting seven points and five rebounds.
The season-opening performance looked strong to Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla.
“I thought he picked up where he left off as far as his weak-side defense,” Mazzulla said. “I thought he did a good job with his presence at the rim, and he just looked comfortable out there, so I was happy for him.”
The first pass from Marcus Smart leading to a slam eased Williams, which is good news for Celtics fans moving forward.
“I think I just needed to catch a lob and dunk, to be honest,” Williams said. “It was just like a sense of calm. I think after the first dunk it was kind of like, ‘Yeah, I can just breathe.'”
–Field Level Media