Celtics win preseason opener, beat Magic 98-97

What an electric preseason opener. Late-game theatrics from Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford, along with production from The Pillars (Brown and Tatum), helped earn Boston a hard-fought victory, 98-97.

Here are the highlights and lowlights from the 48 minutes of play:

First Quarter: A Jayson Tatum three — off great ball movement — put the Celtics on the board for the first time of the 2021-22 campaign. As expected, though, both teams came out of the gate disjointed and rusty; they combined to make just six of their first 18 shots. Once the first-few-minutes-of-preseason jitters subsided, Jaylen Brown caught fire, scoring ten straight points to give the Celtics a 14-10 lead by the 6:23 mark. All quarter long, Boston competed with a level of urgency and intensity on defense that is rarely witnessed during the opening moments of the preseason. Green jerseys were seen diving on the floor, taking charges, and coming away with strips. New Celtic Josh Richardson, in particular, made his presence felt with a pair of blocks in six minutes. At the end of an entertaining quarter of postseason basketball, the Celtics led Orlando 21-20.

Second Quarter: Mo Bamba, Orlando’s fourth-year big, dominated the early part of the second frame — he scored 11 points (and nailed one three-pointer) by the 7:31 mark, which spurred a timeout from Ime Udoka. But the Celtics responded following the stoppage in play, erasing the seven-point Magic lead in less than five minutes; the green held a one-point advantage with 2:55 remaining in the opening half. Brown and Tatum were the straws that stirred the offense with 32 of Boston’s 50 first-half points. But Horford, as is customary, was the unsung hero of the half. The 35-year-old backed up Udoka’s comments that he found the fountain of youth, scoring five points and grabbing as many rebounds in 11 minutes. Perhaps most importantly, Horford looked spry and competed with a palpable spring in his step. All in all, the second quarter was a near stalemate, with the Magic outscoring Boston 32-29. Orlando held a meager 52-50 advantage with 24 minutes in the books.

Third Quarter: It took nearly three minutes into the second half for Boston to convert their first field goal, which was a loud Tatum dunk in the grill of Wendell Carter Jr. Missing their initial four shots of the second half, Boston’s start to the third mirrored that of the first. The Celtics somewhat got back on track once they shifted back to letting Tatum and Brown, the only two C’s in double digits, run the show. But the stars’ one-on-one scoring couldn’t regain the lead for Boston. Spearheaded by sizzling shooting (six made threes in the quarter), the Magic gained a decisive 76-67 lead with 1:48 left, their largest of the night. Orlando went the final 1:48 without scoring, though, and thus the Celtics were able to narrow the Magic lead to five heading into the fourth, 76-71.

Fourth Quarter: Cole Anthony ushered in the final frame for Orlando with a 33-foot bomb as the shot clock winded down. Meanwhile, Boston had another ice-cold shooting start to a quarter, this time not getting on the board until an Enes Kanter bucket at the 9:02 mark. The Magic worked to get Anthony in pick-and-roll action against Kanter, a strategy that yielded an easy blow-by layup for him. After struggling mightily to find the net from deep all night, the Celtics finally flipped the switch. Back-to-back triples from Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith sliced the Orlando deficit to five with 5:11 left to play. Before those two shots, the Celtics nailed just nine of their 33 treys as a team. Boston then held all the momentum and rode it the rest of the way, finishing the game on a 22-10 run from this point on. Some timely buckets from Nesmith and a huge three from Langford to give the C’s a one-point lead with 13.8 seconds aided in sealing a nail-biter victory, 97-98.

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