For two and a half quarters, the Celtics were trying to win the MLB home run derby using a wiffle ball bat. The Magic led by as many as 27. Boston’s deficit normally fluttered between 18 points and 21 points, or some other number that seemed impossible to recover from, on the road, without three starters, against one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. The Celtics were dead. They were all but guaranteed to move to 7-10, after what would have been yet another loss to yet another winning team.
And then it happened. E’Twuan Moore hit a few threes. Paul Pierce’s All-Star form came rising from the Amway Center floor with steam coming off its head. Glen Davis fired jumpers that didn’t go anywhere near the center of the rim. Boston’s defense paced around the backyard, barking and snarling and turning every visitor away. The Magic suddenly seemed flustered. They stopped running their sets. Boston continued to attack the rim and find the open teammate. Orlando continued to settle for garbage.
The 27-point lead disappeared, or rather, the Celtics seized it and threw it in the dumpster. Moore hit his fourth three of the contest to actually give Boston the lead, and for the first time in many comeback threats this season, Boston completed the quest.
The C’s didn’t whittle away the lead. They chopped it all off with one swing of the ax. The Magic led by 20 one second. The next it was nine. Then a tie score. Then the Celtics were pulling away and Orlando was falling apart in a sea of technical fouls, Brandon Bass was shaking Pierce as if to say “look what we done did,” a still-amped Kevin Garnett was telling Craig Sager about the bar fight Boston had just won, Stan Van Gundy was likely wishing he still had a voice so he could scream at his team in the locker room, and Doc Rivers was pumping his fist, slapping people’s asses and telling anyone who would listen, “Yes sir, that’s how you win” on his way off the court.
One night — one half, really — does not necessarily mean the Celtics are back to being the Celtics, but for 18 or 19 glorious minutes, as Orlando’s ball of yarn began to unravel, as Garnett bounced around, Pierce marked the Amway Center his own, Moore became the latest Celtic to climb from the basement and make major contributions, and Boston deleted a 27-point lead despite missing three starters, two of them All-Stars, it felt like they were. They are not yet .500, they still have not beaten a single winning team not named “the Orlando Magic” — but if you close your eyes and listen to the sound of basketballs bouncing off the hardwood, it’s easy to believe the Celtics are regaining an identity, the scrappy old men who won’t lay down and close their eyes, no matter how many excuses whisper in their ear that it’s time to fall asleep.