Magic escape vs. Celtics to win Southeast Division
The Boston Celtics might be taking an extra road trip to defend their title.
It's a detour that might go through the Magic Kingdom.
Dwight Howard blocked a potential go-ahead layup by Paul Pierce with 3.8 seconds left, and the Orlando Magic clinched their second straight Southeast Division title with an 84-82 win over the Celtics on Wednesday night.
Howard had 24 points and 21 rebounds as the Magic (53-18) bumped Boston (54-19) by percentage points for second in the Eastern Conference. Orlando remains five games back of Cleveland for the conference lead with 11 games left. The Magic took the division title with Atlanta's loss to San Antonio.
"We get another banner," Howard said. "Hopefully we can get two more."
Pierce hit a jumper to cut Orlando's lead to 83-82 with 1:27 left, but the Celtics couldn't make up the difference without Kevin Garnett, who was limited to 16 minutes as Boston continues to work him back in the lineup from a right knee strain. Pierce then missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won it for Boston.
Rashard Lewis had 21 points, and Hedo Turkoglu added 13 points for the Magic, who nearly blew a 16-point lead before holding on for their fourth straight win and 11th in their last 13 games. The Magic were held to just 14 points in the final period.
"I'm sure we'll see them again," Lewis said. "If we want to get to that ultimate goal, we'll have to go through Boston and Cleveland."
Pierce had 26 points, and Ray Allen added 16 points for the Celtics, who snapped their four-game winning streak.
Fueled by their big man, the Magic finally started to shed that image of a team that can't win the big game.
Howard followed up a rim-rocking, two-hand dunk with a 3-point play that put the Magic up 66-50 with 3:54 left in the third quarter. Garnett was called for the foul on the play and left the game for good, but not before huddling his teammates to give them a few choice words.
They would respond.
Pierce had six points during a furious 12-2 Celtics run that trimmed Orlando's lead to six. Reaching to give his team some life, Howard dunked over Glen Davis on an alley-hoop from Turkoglu that ignited the Magic bench despite ending the third quarter with only a 70-62 lead.
"It's interesting. I don't think we were worried about being down," Allen said. "It was just like, 'Let's get to what we needed to get to.' But defensively we made some mistakes."
With home-court advantage at stake for a potential second-round playoff series, the Celtics made health the priority.
Boston coach Doc Rivers again resisted the urge to play Garnett for a full game, limiting him to eight-minute spurts in the first and third quarters. Garnett finished with four points and eight rebounds in his fourth game back from injury, and Rivers has said he will continue to ease the All-Star forward back in the lineup.
"Our guys don't care about (home court). They want to get healthy," River said. "And when we get healthy, we're willing to lace up against anybody."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy doesn't buy that as an excuse.
He started his postgame press conference by joking he wouldn't be controversial by blasting anybody, following barbs with the New York Knicks over not interviewing Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing for a job and also accusing Shaquille O'Neal of flopping.
But Van Gundy couldn't resist.
"I want to know how some teams get on the list, where they get excuses and other teams are not on that list. All I've been hearing about is all the injury problems the Celtics have had this year," Van Gundy said.
Van Gundy went on to say how the Magic have dealt with the loss of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson, who has missed 24 games since a season-ending shoulder tear Feb. 2. The Magic have recovered after a three-team trade brought point guard Rafer Alston from Houston, and Howard has continued to make up the point difference lost in Nelson's absence.
Howard's double-double by the first quarter made things tougher for the Celtics.
Orlando's do-it-all center had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the period, powering the Magic to a 25-19 lead after a quarter in which he had three dunks, soaring at times above the backboard. Howard started 6-for-9 shooting and took advantage of Garnett's limited minutes to penetrate the paint at will. It was the fourth time this season Howard had a double-double in the first 12 minutes.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's brother, Jeff, the former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach, was part of the ESPN telecast. Stan Van Gundy joked before the game that he better not hear his brother be critical of his coaching. "When I watch him, he's not critical of coaches. So if he's critical of me, I will be (ticked) off," Stan Van Gundy said, laughing. The brothers' father, Bill, was also in attendance. ... Both teams have one game left against first-place Cleveland. The Magic host the Cavaliers on April 3, and the Celtics play at Cleveland on April 12.