ORLANDO — It was “winning time,” that fabled stretch late in tight games when a single play can swing the outcome either way.
In timeouts, coaches often remind players when that time is upon them, and Brad Stevens did so Friday night, with his team fighting for a win against the Magic.
“Make a couple winning plays,” the rookie Celtics coach said, according to guard Jordan Crawford.
And so the Celtics, already well-versed in nail-biting games in their young season, made a couple of winning plays that helped seal a 91-89 win at Amway Center.
It’s their second straight win and it snapped Orlando’s three-game winning streak, which was built versus stout competition: New Orleans, Brooklyn, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I was glad to see us pull one out,” said Stevens, whose team’s fourth-quarter woes had led to their four losses, three by single digits.
The Celtics held a 90-87 lead with 10.5 seconds left after forward Brandon Bass sank a pair of free throws against his former team, giving him a team-high 16 points.
But Magic guard Aaron Afflalo — who scored a game-high 23 points, including 9 in the final 1:38 — made a 21-foot baseline bank shot with 4.6 seconds left.
The difficult shot, which was just short of being a 3-pointer, cut the Celtics’ lead to 90-89.
With the crowd roaring and on its feet, Avery Bradley was fouled. He made one of two free throws with 3.5 seconds left.
Magic rookie guard Victor Oladipo fired a prayer of a 3-pointer at the buzzer but it wasn’t answered, sealing the Celtics’ win.
Afterward, the Celtics focused not on the final plays, but on those made in “winning time” — and Bradley and Crawford were responsible for them.
The first such play came with 5:49 left and the Celtics holding a 78-77 lead.
With the Magic inbounding the ball, Bradley squared up against Oladipo, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
And then Bradley, as he has done to even the game’s brightest stars, picked the rookie’s pocket in the backcourt.
It was then a race to the rim.
Bradley won. And while being fouled, he threw down a thunderous, one-handed slam over Oladipo. Bradley, who had 14 points and eight rebounds, landed and let out a guttural roar. He sank the free throw, putting his team ahead, 81-77.
“I taught him how to pick the ball up like that and then finish with a dunk, and-one,” Stevens joked. “We went over that in pregame.”
After a pair of Celtics turnovers, Magic guard Jameer Nelson missed a long 3-pointer. Oladipo grabbed the long rebound, but Bradley again poked the ball loose.
Crawford quickly dived to the floor to corral it, and called for a timeout with 4:09 left and the Celtics holding an 82-77 lead.
“To me, that was the winning play, more than anything,” Bradley said.
Stevens said he told Crawford that “the best play I’ve ever seen him make was diving on the floor like that and I’ve seen him make some really good ones in college and in the pros. That showed a real understanding of what it takes to win when it matters.”
Crawford started, scored 13 points, and had a team-high five assists as he played the point guard role. He also shrugged off any praise about his hustle play.
“It’s going to take everybody that’s on the court to make a winning play for us to win,” Crawford said. “I got my hand on the ball. Avery got the steal, and-one.”
The Celtics have had close calls before, such as when they blew a 22-point second-half lead in their home opener and lost against Milwaukee.
But Stevens felt that winning a close game in the fourth quarter was crucial.
“Otherwise it can become a little bit of a hurdle,” he said.
Crawford also believes that wins of this type are invaluable.
“It’s always good to get the win too, but early in the season, to get this type of close-game experience, [it] will carry over later in the season,” Crawford said.
The only lopsided statistic in the box score was points off turnovers, where the Celtics had a 25-8 advantage, capitalizing on 20 Orlando miscues.
The Celtics, meanwhile, had just 11 turnovers after averaging nearly twice that many, with many of them coming late, crippling their chances.
“We’re improving as a team and at the end of the game, we know what we want to do,” Bradley said. “We’re not just running around and turning the ball over.”
The Celtics won despite shooting 36 percent overall and 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
They trailed by 12 in the first half but used a 15-6 run to open the third quarter, giving them a 61-55 lead. In the fourth, the Celtics never led by more than 7, and that lead eventually disappeared as the Magic tied the score at 75 with 7:31 left.
Stevens didn’t overplay the victory. He said it was important, sure, and that it’s always nice to win, obviously. But he added that the Celtics play at Miami Saturday, and that they’ll face the Magic again Monday at TD Garden.
“It just never stops,” he said. “You have to ride the momentum if you can positively, but you can’t let it consume you.”
For at least their late-night charter flight to the home of the two-time defending champions, the Celtics were able to soak up a hard-fought win, their second in a row.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.