Nothing has come easy for the Orlando Magic over the last seven years.
They endured four different head coaches, five seasons with 50-plus losses and took many turns in the NBA draft lottery.
So when the horn sounded on their 116-108 win over the Celtics on Sunday night to clinch the Magic’s first postseason berth since 2012, they took some extra time to celebrate.
Terrence Ross had 26 points, Nikola Vucevic finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 24 points for Orlando (41-40). The victory also gave the Magic their first regular-season sweep over Boston since 1996-97.
“It’s an amazing feeling. Nobody knows what I’ve been through in the last six years here, just through all the losing, the struggling, the doubting,” Vucevic said. “It’s been very difficult for me at times. It paid off in a great way, man, just to come in here in this building and beat a great Celtics team and to make it.”
Cheers could be heard outside Orlando’s locker room postgame and Vucevic and others were wearing black Magic “Clinched” T-shirts with “Southeast Division Champions” on them. Coach Steve Clifford was doused with water by his players.
“It’s fun to see,” Clifford said. “Anybody that doesn’t think there’s purity in the NBA should have seen this scene in the locker room because they’re deserving, but it’s enjoyable.”
Even with the loss, the Celtics (48-33) clinched the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs just before tip-off. That came courtesy of Brooklyn’s win over Indiana. The Pacers are locked in as Boston’s first-round opponent as the fifth seed.
Kyrie Irving had 23 points for Boston. Al Horford finished with 18 points and Gordon Hayward added 16 off the bench.
The Magic erased a 13-point first-half deficit and took an 83-78 lead into the fourth quarter. They kept it going, starting the final period on an 11-2 run, which included nine points by Ross.
Boston responded with run of its own and tied the game at 106 on a 3-pointer by Irving with 2:50 remaining.
But the Magic kept attacking.
Fournier got free in the lane and dunked over Terry Rozier to put the Magic back in front. The Celtics turned it over on their next possession. That was followed by an Aaron Gordon layup on the other end that made it 110-106.
“We were definitely trying to win the game,” Hayward said. “We wanted to go into the playoffs playing our best basketball. They hit some tough shots tonight. You could definitely tell they were playing for something.”
Magic: Vucevic had his 60th double-double of the season.
Celtics: Hayward has now scored in double-figures in eight consecutive games.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the game that the Brooklyn-Indiana outcome wouldn’t affect how much he played his starters against Orlando.
He was true to his word and played his starters their normal minutes.
It proved costly.
Jayson Tatum limped off the court at the six-minute mark of the first quarter with a left shin contusion and did not return.
Marcus Smart left with 6:15 remaining in the third, helped off by trainers and holding his left side after banging hips with Vucevic. The team initially said it was a left hip contusion. After the game Stevens said he was told it was an oblique bruise. Smart could still be seen limping as he left the arena after the game.
Stevens said he’ll play his starters “a lot less on Tuesday, if at all” in Boston’s regular-season finale at Washington.
EYES ON INDIANA
Now that the Celtics first-round opponent is set, Irving said their focus has shifted to the Pacers.
“I’m just happy that we get to prepare for a team for multiple days,” Irving said. “It’s nothing really surprising in the playoffs. Just go out there and get a good feel for the Pacers. Game 1 is a feel-out game and then we go from there.”
Magic: Regular-season finale at Charlotte Tuesday.
Celtics: Regular-season finale at Washington Wednesday.