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Magic build big lead, hold on to beat Celtics in series opener

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (top) is called for a charging foul as he drives against Boston Celtics forward Glen Davis during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series in Boston on Monday.

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (top) is called for a charging foul as he drives against Boston Celtics forward Glen Davis during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series in Boston on Monday.

BOSTON – The Orlando Magic avoided an epic collapse when the clock ran out on the Boston Celtics’ comeback bid.

There would be no overtime this time.

Just another hole from which the defending NBA champions will try to escape.

Dwight Howard returned from his one-game suspension to get 16 points and 22 rebounds Monday night and Orlando, which led by as many as 28 points in the second half, held off the late-charging Celtics 95-90 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“The last 16 minutes was a debacle,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We were sort of trying to run out the clock, and you can’t do that in games like this. Especially in the playoffs, teams are going to keep fighting and keep coming back.

“(But) how about the fact that we were up 28? You play these games to win, and that’s it. We won. Right now, the series is 1-0.”

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Boston.

Orlando led 65-37 early in the third quarter, but Boston trailed by four points when Ray Allen’s 3-pointer rimmed out with 43 seconds left. Orlando’s J.J. Redick made two free throws with 14 seconds left before Paul Pierce’s high 3-pointer made it a three-point game with 6.6 seconds to play.

But Redick made two more free throws to ice it.

“We got complacent as a team, stopped doing what we did to get the lead and against a good Celtics team you can’t do that,” Howard said. “You don’t want to focus on them coming back. We still won the game and we saw what we have to do to win the series.”

Pierce scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and Rajon Rondo had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Pierce said the Celtics never feel like they’re out of a game, and there’s a good reason why: They came back from 21 points down to beat New Jersey in the 2002 conference finals, and they rallied from 24 points down to beat the L.A. Lakers in Game 4 of last season’s NBA finals.

“We cannot wait until we’re down 25, 26 points until we wake up,” said Pierce, who is the only remaining Celtic to play in both those games. “There’s no excuses for us not to be ready.”

Kendrick Perkins had 16 rebounds for Boston, but Rondo and Allen both went 2 of 12 from the field. The Magic had a cold spell of their own in the fourth quarter, going just 5 of 20 from the field to lose most of a once-dominating lead that had the Boston fans booing their team off the court at halftime.

“If we had played the rest of the game like the second half . . . ,” said Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who scored 12 points before fouling out. “It’s hard to play from behind. That’s what we did and we lost.”

Orlando finished off Philadelphia in six games on Thursday night, and Howard has been resting up even longer: He was suspended for the finale of that series for elbowing Sixers center Samuel Dalembert.

“It felt like I was out 10 games,” Howard said. “I was a little rusty. We’ll be ready for Game 2.”

Boston had just one day off after eliminating the Chicago Bulls in a best-of-seven series – 7 3/4, actually – one many consider the best first-round playoff series in NBA history. The teams played a record four overtime games and seven overtimes periods in all – nearly three extra quarters.

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