FLORIDA – The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) 2022 No. 1 draft pick Paolo Banchero scored 23 points, as the Orlando Magic ended the injury-depleted Boston Celtics’ nine-game winning streak with an upset 113-98 victory.
Orlando, languishing three places off the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 17-29 record before Monday’s game, took full advantage of Boston’s injury crisis to complete a deserved win at the Amway Centre in Florida.
The league-leading Celtics (35-13) were missing key defensive figures Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III due to injury, and their absence proved crucial as a fired-up Orlando stormed to victory.
Banchero, 20, showed maturity beyond his tender years to orchestrate Orlando’s win, which saw five Magic players reach double-digit totals, with Wendell Carter Jr posting 21 points and Germany’s Franz Wagner 15.
“Any time you get to play a championship-level team, a team that’s been to the Finals, and has been where you want to be, you want to put out your best effort and get the win,” Banchero said.
“That’s my mentality, and that’s our team’s mentality, and we were able to do that.
“I just wanted to be decisive with my moves, when I decided to attack, when I decided to shoot – not force anything and let the game come to me. Be aggressive and decisive, and live with the results.”
Arguably the most impressive contribution came in the form of a 10-minute cameo from Jonathan Isaac, making his first appearance in an NBA game since August 2020 following more than two years dominated by injuries.
Isaac finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two steals during his encouraging return to the hardwood.
“It felt fantastic, just to touch the floor – I feel so grateful,” he said.
“I feel good, I’m grateful to be with the Magic, plus to get a win – I couldn’t be happier.”
His coach Jamahl Mosley was quoted by ESPN as saying: “He was great. I thought he did a great job playing with a level of poise. I think that was the importance of him getting the G League time.
“Obviously, there was a ton of emotions and rightfully so. I thought it was great the way he handled himself.”
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the Boston scoring with 26 points each, while Derrick White added 11 and Sam Hauser 13 off the bench.
In other games on Monday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton returned from injury with a vengeance, as the Milwaukee Bucks arrested their current slump in form with a ruthless 150-130 pounding of the Detroit Pistons.
Antetokounmpo had missed the last five Bucks games with a lingering knee injury, a spell that saw them lose three games. Middleton meanwhile had not played since mid-December.
But Antetokounmpo showed no sign of ring-rust as he led a comprehensive rout, scoring 29 points with 12 rebounds and four assists.
Brook Lopez had 21 points, while Middleton added eight points on his return.
“The band is back together... It feels good to be out there with the team again, play, run up and down, make some plays,” Antetokounmpo said.
“Never take it for granted. Definitely just miss it – miss being around my teammates, miss playing basketball. I just missed being out there and competing.”
The game was effectively over after the first quarter, with Milwaukee pouring in an astonishing 49 points in the opening period to take a 25-point lead into the second quarter.
Milwaukee improved to 30-17 in the Eastern Conference standings, in third place behind Boston and Philadelphia.
Detroit remain rooted to the bottom of the table on 12-37.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have signed Japanese forward Rui Hachimura in a deal that sends guard Kendrick Nunn and multiple draft picks to the Washington Wizards, the Lakers said on Monday.
The 2.03m Hachimura has made 30 appearances for the Wizards this season, averaging 13 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists.
In his four seasons in the NBA, the 24-year-old has averaged 13 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists. AFP