Boston (7-2) have gotten over the dispiriting long-term injury to Gordon Hayward in their season opener and rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit to win 101-94 at Oklahoma City on Friday night. Kyrie Irving scored 25 points and Al Horford hit all four of his three-point attempts and added 20 for the Celtics, who held the Thunder to 39 second-half points.
The Celtics, who also have the NBA’s best record, have not won eight in a row since reeling off 14 straight wins from Nov. 22-Dec. 22, 2010. Defense has been the common thread of this winning streak as Boston have allowed 90.6 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting, and no opponent has reached the century mark.
Orlando (6-3) was denied a third straight win with a surprising 105-83 home loss to Chicago on Friday night. Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic scored a combined 35 points on 15-of-28 shooting, but their Magic teammates were a combined 20 for 58 as they also allowed the Bulls to shoot 14 of 29 from beyond the arc.
The Magic could be forced to start third-string point guard Shelvin Mack for a second straight game if Elfrid Payton cannot return from a strained left hamstring. Payton, who has missed the last seven games, participated in non-contact drills in Friday’s shoot around and was expected to practice Saturday.
Backup point guard D. J. Augustin did not play Friday after also suffering a strained left hamstring. Mack had eight assists and five rebounds in 21 minutes but was one for eight from the field.
Three keys to the game
Al Horford, three-point shooter? - Before thinking this becomes a regular thing, Horford's impressive 14 for 30 effort from beyond the arc is enhanced by him going a combined eight for nine in wins over Milwaukee and Oklahoma City.
He's also a career 35.2 percent shooter, but if he's spreading the floor so Kyrie Irving can drive and dish, the Celtics' offense gets measurably better.
Live by the three, die by the three - The Magic shot a season-worst 28.6 percent (10 of 35) from three-point range in their loss to the Bulls. They still lead the NBA at 42.1 percent from deep, but there also has to be recognition of when to attack the basket to get easy baskets to get back into rhythm.
Some of that may be because Orlando are using a third-string point guard in Mack, and that could go away if Payton returns, but the offense needs to be more balanced.
Boston's inefficient yet contributing bench - The Celtics have gotten an average of 32.0 points from their reserves during their seven-game winning streak, slightly above their season mark of 31.4 per game.
However, it's the staggering amount of attempts they put up that is surprising. Boston's backups are shooting 30.3 percent (27 for 89) from three-point range and 38.1 percent (77 for 202) overall during this run, which goes to show just how good the Celtics' overall defense has been.
Matchup to watch
PF Al Horford vs. PF Aaron Gordon - If Horford continues to have the green light to shoot from the perimeter, it could turn into a mirror match of stretch forwards. Gordon's staggering improvement from beyond the arc (he's 18 for 31 so far) is a key reason for Orland's fast start, and he has the quickness to get around Horford to drive to the basket if he plays him out on the perimeter.
Horford has the luxury of an elite playmaker in Irving to get him the ball, but the veteran's inside-out play since Hayward went down is why the Celtics have won seven straight.
Boston Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | C - Aron Baynes | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford
Orlando Magic projected starting lineup
PG - Shelvin Mack or Elfrid Payton | SG - Terrence Ross | C - Nikola Vucevic | SF - Evan Fournier | PF - Aaron Gordon
Irving has liked playing at Orlando, averaging 21.5 points on 50.4 percent shooting and 6.3 assists with two 30-point efforts in eight games there.
Vucevic has 13 double-doubles in 17 career games against the Celtics, averaging 14.2 points and 10.5 rebounds. The seven-footer, who is 16 for 38 from three-point range this season, is 0 for 4 lifetime beyond the arc versus Boston.
While the Celtics have covered the spread just once in their last six games in Orlando, they have several current trends in their favor heading into this game as three-point favorites.
Boston are 13-3 against the spread in their last 16 road games and have won four straight against the spread versus Eastern Conference opponents and Southeast Division foes. Orlando's proficient three-point shooting is a primary reason the over/under is 207.5 points, but with Boston's defense playing at a high rate, the under may be a stronger play here.
Home or away, Boston have played like a team throughout their winning streak, doing it with defense and an offense in which players know their roles before giving way to Irving and Horford to finish things out.
Irving has scored at least 20 points in every game during this winning streak, and Horford has made 63.8 percent of his shots in the last six of this run while averaging 15.8 points. The Magic need to remember to move the ball offensively when their shots aren't falling. Many of their three-point attempts against Chicago were contested after failing to connect early.
Boston have the perimeter speed to close out on Orlando's shooters and should go on to their eighth straight win with a 103-95 victory over the Magic.
This game will be televized locally on NBC Sports Boston and Fox Sports Florida. Tip off time is 6 pm ET.
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