Celtics, Magic to meet in East showdown
The Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic hold two of the top records in the Eastern Conference.
Heading into Sunday's meeting in Orlando, the teams are coming off distinctly different performances.
Boston (7-2) is on a seven-game winning streak while the Magic (6-3) are smarting from their worst showing of the season and first home defeat of the season.
The Celtics continued their streak by executing a complete reversal Friday night in Oklahoma City. Before Kyrie Irving scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half in a 101-94 win, the Celtics were shooting 31 percent and trailed by halftime.
"It feels good, understanding what we were battling, the type of first half we put out there," Irving said. "Man, it was ugly. It was an ugly first half. It wasn't pretty. We understand that."
Irving scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Celtics become the first team to start 0-2 and follow it up with a seven-game winning streak.
The Celtics are a seven-game winning streak for the second time in 2017. They also won seven straight Jan. 25-Feb. 5 and are looking to get an eighth straight victory for the first time since putting 14 straight wins together Nov. 22-Dec. 22, 2010.
Boston leads the league in points allowed at 93.8, is among the league leaders in opposing field goal percentage (43.1) and opposing 3-point percentage (32.1).
The Celtics improved those numbers by outscoring Oklahoma City 64-39 after halftime and limiting the Thunder to 33.3 percent from the field in the final 24 minutes.
The turnaround from Boston's worst first half of the season occurred after a spirited halftime discussion.
"I think that we just all challenged each other to just come out and play hard, to be better," center Al Horford said of the halftime talk. "And we did that. We could have easily kind of folded, but it shows character. Our guys came out and kept fighting. We didn't make excuses. You know, just proud of the group. We responded the right way."
About three hours before Boston kept its streak going, the Magic were handed an ugly 105-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls, who are 2-5.
Orlando held a one-point lead at halftime but was outscored 61-38 the rest of the way, shooting 32.6 percent (14 of 23) while allowing the Bulls to shoot 57.8 percent (22 of 38).
"There's no reason to panic," center Nikola Vucevic said. "It's one game. We've had eight games before that. So, we have to prepare for a big one against a great team like Boston. It's going to be a huge test for us, but we have to respond."
Orlando shot a 40.7 percent and a season-worst 28.6 percent from 3-point range (10 of 35). The tough shooting night dropped its 3-point percentage from 44 percent to 42.1.
"We had a tough-shooting half both from the 3-point line and at the basket and missed some layups, but you have to play through that stuff and stay true to who you are," Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. "I thought when we got behind, or we weren't making shots we kind of fell into some bad habits and that's part of the reason for the offensive woes."
The Magic played without Elfrid Payton, who missed his seventh straight game with a hamstring injury and D.J. Augustin, who sat out with a hamstring injury. Augustin has a mild to moderate injury after getting hurt Wednesday and was starting for Payton, who may return Sunday.
Shelvin Mack started at point guard and while he recorded eight assists, he was 1 of 8 from the field. He would likely start again if Payton does not play.
"We had our starting point guard out the whole season and we played really well and with a good rhythm offensively," Vogel said. "We just have to make sure we come back and find that on Sunday."
Boston has won 19 of the last 24 meetings.
Updated November 4, 2017