Recently, the Boston Celtics haven’t looked like the dominating force they were early in the season. But even when they did, they couldn’t manage a win in Orlando.
The Celtics return to the site of their first loss of the season on Sunday when they visit an Orlando Magic team looking to win its fourth in a row at home.
Boston (34-7) still has the NBA’s best record, but has slowed this month after its fast start. The Celtics are just 5-4 in their last nine games, and coming off a narrow 87-86 home win over the NBA’s worst team—the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We were lucky to win,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It didn’t look like it was going to happen.”
The Celtics shot just 42.0 percent on Friday, their fifth time shooting that poorly in the last 10 games. Forward Kevin Garnett suffered an abdominal strain in the fourth quarter, but returned in time to make a steal on the final possession to preserve the win against his former team.
“I wasn’t going to do anything that would to jeopardize my future,” Garnett said. “But my philosophy has always been that if I can play, if I can run, if I can move, if I can blink, if I can wake up in the morning, I’m going to play.”
Garnett had 10 points and 16 rebounds in the game, as center Kendrick Perkins led the Celtics with 21 points—his second 20-point effort in the last three games. In that span, Perkins has shot 75.0 percent (18-of-24).
Before beating Minnesota, Boston’s league-best defense had allowed Toronto to shoot 58.0 percent overall and 71.4 percent (15-of-21) from 3-point range in a 114-112 home loss—the first time the Celtics had given up 100 points in 23 games.
The Magic (27-18) are also one of just four teams to manage 100 in regulation against Boston, which allows just 88.0 points per game. They beat the Celtics 104-102 at home on Nov. 18, ending Boston’s 8-0 start.
Orlando won that game despite being outshot and outrebounded by the Celtics, who had a 41-28 edge on the boards and shot 53.3 percent.
But the Magic have also cooled off after a 14-3 start. They’re just 13-15 since Nov. 30, though they had won three straight before a 101-93 loss at Detroit on Friday.
The Magic fell behind 39-18 after one quarter against the Pistons and never recovered despite 22 points and 14 rebounds from Dwight Howard.
“I didn’t see one guy that played well in the first half,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They had 11 offensive rebounds and we had eight defensive rebounds. When a team is getting 60 percent of their own misses, that’s beyond embarrassing.”
The Magic have been worse at home than on the road, going just 10-8 at Amway Arena. But they have scored at least 100 points in three straight wins there, including a 102-100 win over Detroit in their last home game on Monday.
They lost 103-91 at Boston in the teams’ most recent meeting on Dec. 23, when Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo had 23 points.
The Celtics have lost five in a row in Orlando since their last win in November 2004.