Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are not the only Eastern Conference heavyweight to hit some bumps along the road.
The conference-leading Boston Celtics have now dropped the consecutive games on their home floor after bowing to the anemic Orlando Magic, 103-95, on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
As he did often during his days as a Cavalier, point guard Kyrie Irving had a big game offensively, leading all scorers Sunday with a season-high 40 points in his return to the lineup after sitting out Thursday’s defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers with a sore left shoulder.
However, not even Irving was enough to help Boston overcome a 19-point deficit against the Magic, who broke a 14-game losing streak in Boston with its first win on the parquet floor since Feb. 7, 2010. There’s no LeBron James in Boston to rely on to tag-team with. Jaylen Brown (17) and Marcus Morris (12) were the only other Celtics to reach double figures.
Conversely, five Orlando players reached double figures, led by Irving’s matchup at the point, Elfrid Payton, who had 22 points.
“You gotta hit some adversity. We have to hit something,” Irving said after the loss. “Like, we need it as a team. There’s a lot more adversity down the road, and we’ve got to be able to weather the storm no matter what.”
Boston (34-13), which holds a two-game lead on Toronto (31-14) in the East, has not had to weather many “storms” this season, other than losing big-ticket free-agent signee Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season opener Oct. 17 in Cleveland with a gruesome ankle injury. The Celtics then lost the following night at Milwaukee, 108-100, to begin the season 0-2.
With Irving leading the way, Boston then ripped off 34 wins in its next 42 contests, including a 16-game winning streak.
But after a come-from-behind win against the 76ers in London, the Celtics came back to the States, only to begin their current three-game skid, bowing to the Pelicans, the Sixers and the Magic, their first three-game losing streak of the season, which came on the heels of a seven-game winning streak.
Sunday, Orlando entered the game tied with the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings for the worst record in in the NBA at 13-32.
The fact the Celtics, who now head West for a four-game road trip, have trailed by 12 points or more in each of their last four contests, starting with the win against the Sixers in London, was not lost on post player Al Horford,who had but nine points, to go with five rebounds and six assists in 33 minutes Sunday.
“In my eyes, I feel like we’re fighting for our lives right now,” he said. “That has to be our mindset going into Tuesday’s game [in Los Angeles against the Lakers], and we’ll take it a game at a time, focus on Tuesday and make sure we come out with a lot of energy and that we’re able to sustain it throughout the game.”
Irving, who shot 14-of-23, including 5-of-7 from 3, and added seven rebounds and 40 minutes in his return Sunday, said Boston’s bump in the road is simply part of the twists and turns that combine to form a season.
“That’s part of the game, and learning one another and being able to figure out how do you respond from that,” he said. “Us as a group, as we’ve come in the last four months or five months, it’s new.
“We need to hit something like this in order for us to grow. It’s part of the game. It’s part of being on a team, part of being a professional on any team, in any environment. You gotta have stuff like this where you gotta figure it out.”
The four-time All-Star said there’s nothing specific the Celtics must fix.
“We’ve just gotta play better,” he said. “That’s all. It’s as simple as that.
“I think that we’ll leave the kind of internal language for us, and we’ll go out there and execute out there on the floor.”