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ORLANDO -- Four free throws by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the final seconds were the only points the Boston Celtics managed in the final 5 1/2 minutes -- and the only points they needed.
Allen and Pierce combined for 47 points and the Celtics continued their drive toward the NBA Finals Sunday, holding off the Orlando Magic 92-88 in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals.
It was the fourth straight playoff win for the Celtics since they fell behind Cleveland 2-1 in the second round. They did it by taking the Magic out of their offense in the first half. Orlando went scoreless for a stretch of 5:32 and scored only 14 points in the first 16 minutes.
"It was a defensive game," Boston coach Doc Rivers. "We like those, and that was good for us."
The Celtics put the Magic in a double-digit hole and they couldn't climb out of it, even with a 56-point second half.
"They came out ready to play," said Vince Carter, who led the Magic with 23 points. "They jumped on us early, offensively and defensively.
"We fought like heck to get back in the game. Unfortunately, when you're down that many points with about nine minutes to go, and with them defending like they did, it's going to be tough."
It was the Magic's first loss in the playoffs, their first loss at home since March 14 and their first loss of any kind of since April 2.
"It's been that long since they lost a game?" asked Pierce, who needed only eight shots to score 22 points. "We honestly didn't realize that."
The Magic made only four of their first 22 shots and missed all nine 3-point attempts in the first half while committing 12 turnovers.
After 14 straight wins and a six-day layoff since sweeping Atlanta, rust was a convenient explanation. Dwight Howard (13 points, 12 rebounds, seven turnovers, five blocks) preferred the word "anxious."
Nor did coach Stan Van Gundy want to resort to the rust excuse.
"Our team's responded to everything," he said. "We got outplayed today. That's it.
"We have to find better ways offensively to attack their defense. We have to quit turning the ball over and we have to make some defensive adjustments. Our guys aren't going to fall apart . . . they got down 20 in this game and they didn't collapse."
Pierce opened the game and the series with a 3-pointer and the Magic never led, something that happened to them only once during the regular season.
Orlando's high point came early in the second half when Jameer Nelson hit a couple of 3-pointers, quickly cutting Boston's nine-point halftime lead to three and bringing the crowd into it.
But another 3-pointer by Pierce opened a 17-2 Boston run, and the Celtics stretched the lead to 67-47 before the end of the third period.
The Magic crept back into it by making eight straight free throws. But then the foul-prone Howard committed the kind of offensive foul that has frustrated the Magic all season. While reaching for a pass in the post, he threw out an elbow that caught the face of Glen Davis, who fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
It was Howard's fourth foul, and Rasheed Wallace responded with a 3-pointer, pushing Boston's lead back up to 17 with only 10:27 left.
Allen, who finished with a game-high 25 points, took advantage of Magic defenders playing up on him by driving the lane for layups.
"For the most part, if the shot is not there, I've got to drive and that's what I was trying to do early in the game," Allen said.
Asked whether Howard's prediction that the Magic would win the series had served as a motivation for the Celtics, Allen let the score do the talking.
"There's a lot of things I believe that I can do and a lot of things I believe I will do, but a lot of times I'll just keep it to myself and just quietly work on them and prepare myself," Allen said. "As a team we feel the same way. We know what we want to do, we know what direction we're trying to head in. We don't need to put it out there."
But on Sunday they did, especially on defense in the first half.
"It was a wake-up call that we really needed, in my opinion" Carter said. "I think it's great to go undefeated. You always want to learn your lesson but still win. It just didn't work out that way tonight."
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ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic finally know their opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals – and it will be one that is quite familiar to them.
The fourth-seeded Boston Celtics stunned the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in their second-round playoff series, setting up a playoff showdown against the Magic for a second consecutive season. The Celtics defeated the Cavaliers 94-85 Thursday night at Boston’s TD Garden.
The second-seeded Magic will have homecourt advantage in the series against the Celtics and will host Games 1 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.) and 2 (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.) before the series moves to Boston.
The Magic defeated the Celtics in an epic seven-game series last spring, including a blowout victory in Boston in Game 7.
Orlando, the NBA’s only undefeated team in the playoffs at 8-0, has been off since Monday when it completed a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks. The Magic also swept the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs.
Orlando defeated Boston three times in four meetings during the regular season. The Magic twice won in Boston, beating the Celtics 83-78 in November and 96-89 in February. The Magic won 96-94 in Orlando on a last-second layup by Rashard Lewis, but lost 86-77 at Amway Arena on Christmas Day to the Celtics.
It had been assumed for months that the Cavs and the Magic would meet once again in the Eastern Conference Finals as they did last spring when Orlando won the series, 4-2. But instead it will be the Magic and Celtics to decide who goes to the NBA Finals.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he wasn’t one bit surprised that the Celtics are back in the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Cavaliers in three consecutive games.
``They don’t surprise me because they have three guys going into the Hall of Fame,’’ Van Gundy said, referring to Boston stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. ``And they have an all-star in (Rajon) Rondo. They’ve had health problems most of the season. Pierce and Garnett had health problems, but they’re healthy now. They’re playing great. They’re a championship team that has won 60 games two of the past three years.’’
The Magic defeated a Boston team last spring that was without Garnett, who needed offseason knee surgery. But Orlando was also without starting point guard Jameer Nelson, the Magic’s leading scorer this postseason at 20.5 points per game.
Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis were the Magic’s top performers against Boston during the regular season. Carter had a big game in Boston in November and averaged 19.8 points against the Celtics despite shooting 38.7 percent from the floor. Lewis averaged 18 points in four games against the Celtics, making 45.1 percent of his shots and 47.4 percent of this 3-pointers.
Magic superstar center Dwight Howard averaged just 12.2 points in four games against the Celtics, struggling to get his shots against Boston big men Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Garnett. But Howard made his impact in other ways against Boston, grabbing 14.5 boards a game while also swatting 3.2 shots a game.
As for the Celtics, Van Gundy thinks they are still plenty of dangerous despite being one of the NBA’s most experienced teams.
``A lot of the age stuff should be attributed to their health,’’ Van Gundy said, referring to the belief that Boston’s window of opportunity to win a championship had closed. ``The age thing goes out the window in the playoffs when you’re not playing four games in five nights. You get enough rest in the playoffs and now it’s just about playing at a high level. And Boston is certainly playing at a high level right now.’’
John Denton writes for Orlandomagic.com. His Magic ``Behind the Scenes’’ segment can be heard each week on ESPN 1080 AM. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2010 NBA Playoffs – East Finals vs. Boston: Orlando is 40-43 all-time vs. Boston in regular season action (28-14 at home, 12-29 on the road), including 3-1 this season (see recaps below)…The Magic went 2-2 last season against the Celtics...The Magic are 7-4 vs. the Celtics in the playoffs (1-1 at home, 2-0 on the road, 1995 first round series; 2-1 at home, 2-2 on the road, 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals)...The Magic have won 13 of the last 20 regular season matchups with the Celtics overall…Orlando has won eight of the last 10 meetings at home and five of the last nine matchups in Boston…Orlando defeated Boston in the last game ever played at the Boston Garden, 95-92, on May 5, 1995...Assistant Coach Steve Clifford coached at Boston University for four years…For last season’s stats and Magic career numbers vs. Boston, see p. 238 of the media guide…Nov. 20 @ Boston – Magic 83, Celtics 78: Vince Carter poured in a game-high 26 points, as Orlando defeated Boston, 83-78, at TD Garden. It was the fourth straight victory for the Magic. Rashard Lewis tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds for Orlando, while Mickael Pietrus added 14 points. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 21 points. Orlando shot just 41.4 percent and committed 21 turnovers. However, they held Boston to just 34.5 percent shooting from the floor, including 2-of-19 from three-point range. Orlando led 29-13 after the first quarter, but the Celtics fought back and trailed 43-40 at halftime. Rasheed Wallace’s short jumper with 2:54 remaining tied the score at 78. However, Carter responded with a short fadeaway on the next possession to give the Magic the lead for good…Dec. 25 vs. Boston – Celtics 86, Magic 77: Rajon Rondo tallied 17 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, as Boston defeated Orlando, 86-77, at a sold-out Amway Arena on Christmas Day. The loss snapped the Magic’s six-game home win streak. Ray Allen led the Celtics with 18 points. Vince Carter led the Magic and all scorers with 27 points, while Dwight Howard pulled down 20 rebounds for the third time in four games. Orlando shot a season-low 33.3 percent from the floor, including 5-of-26 from three-point range. The Magic set a franchise-low by scoring just eight points during the second quarter. They were outscored during the frame, 20-8. Orlando also dished out a franchise-low seven assists in the game…Jan. 28 vs. Boston – Magic 96, Celtics 94: Rashard Lewis poured in a game-high 23 points, including the game-winning layup with 1.3 seconds left, as Orlando rallied from a 16-point deficit and edged Boston, 96-94, at a sold-out Amway Arena. Dwight Howard tallied 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks for the Magic. Ray Allen led the Celtics with 20 points. Boston led 34-23 after the first quarter and 51-40 at halftime. A jumper by Paul Pierce with 9:17 left in the third quarter gave the Celtics a 58-42 advantage. Orlando rallied and outscored Boston in the fourth quarter, 35-22. Trailing 94-91, J.J. Redick nailed a long three-pointer from the right wing with 41.4 seconds left to tie the score at 94. After a Celtics miss and with the clock winding down, Lewis drove along the right baseline past Kevin Garnett and scored with 1.3 seconds remaining. Rasheed Wallace’s three-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark and the Magic escaped with the win…Feb. 7 @ Boston – Magic 96, Celtics 89: Vince Carter netted a game-high 20 points, while Dwight Howard tallied 16 points and 13 rebounds, as Orlando defeated Boston, 96-89, at TD Garden. The Magic won the season series with the Celtics, 3-1. All five Orlando starters scored in double figures. Rajon Rondo paced the Celtics with 17 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals. Orlando trailed at halftime, 51-40, but exploded during the third quarter. The Magic went on a 19-0 run, outscored Boston in the stanza, 36-11, and took a commanding 76-62 lead. Orlando shot 11-of-22 from beyond three-point range.
BEST ALL-TIME SCORING PERFORMANCE VS. CELTICS: 44 pts., Tracy McGrady (@ Orlando, 1-16-04)
BEST ALL-TIME SCORING PERFORMANCE VS. MAGIC: 46 pts., Larry Bird (@ Orlando, 3-16-90)
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