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Irving's 40 not enough in Celts' loss to Magic

By JAY KING, Springfield, Mass.

January 21. 2018 8:47PM

Orlando Magic forward Evan Fournier drives to the basket while Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown tries to steal the ball during the first half at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

BOSTON — During the first half, Kyrie Irving looked capable of conquering the world or at least a lowly Eastern Conference foe. During the fourth quarter, the Boston Celtics defense rampaged against the Orlando Magic. But in so many other moments, so many other ways, the Celtics disappointed Sunday afternoon.

Though Irving returned from a one-game absence with 40 points, the Celtics were left splattered on the TD Garden floor after taking a 103-95 beating from the Orlando Magic. The Celtics’ defense jumped to life during the fourth quarter, but the energy and execution arrived too late.

Jaylen Brown scored 17 points, Al Horford (nine points, six assists, five rebounds) did some nice playmaking in the first half, and Marcus Morris (12 points, five rebounds) was fine enough, but most of the Celtics were other non-factors or downright bad.

The second quarter had some damaging stretches, but everything deteriorated in the third quarter. Coach Brad Stevens called timeout after three minutes of cluttered, ragged hoops, then dusted off Shane Larkin — who didn’t play in the first half — to try changing his team’s spirit. But the Magic still started the quarter on a 25-8 run before pushing their lead to 90-71 by the end of the period.

Incredibly, Orlando managed 26 points in the paint during the third quarter, while the Celtics almost had as many turnovers (eight) as total points (12). This was utter destruction, with Boston’s offense breaking down as Elfrid Payton (22 points), Evan Fournier (19 points) and Aaron Gordon (11 points, 12 rebounds) all got to the rim. Marcus Smart’s four turnovers in the quarter didn’t help, but the entire Celtics outfit was disjointed in the 12 minutes after halftime.

But, after self-destructing during the third quarter, the Celtics returned to defending. As the Magic opened the quarter 1 for 16 from the field, Boston pulled within nine on a Jayson Tatum 3-pointer about midway through the fourth quarter, then within seven on an Irving floater with about two minutes left. But the Celtics couldn’t close out enough possessions to come all the way back.

So many things went poorly for the Celtics during the first half. They surrendered 56.1-percent shooting. They were hurt by Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, Jonathan Simmons and D.J. Augustin.

But Irving was brilliant, so the Celtics went into halftime with a 59-58 lead.

Over the first two quarters, he collected 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting and even took a pair of charges. After a one-game absence to rest a sore left shoulder, Irving was clinical, making his first three 3-pointers, including a step-back from deep in the left corner shortly before halftime.