2-1 series lead in Eastern Conference semifinal
ORLANDO, Fla. – Into the stands. Off the backboard or in another player’s face, Dwight Howard sent Boston Celtics’ shots everywhere.
Howard had 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lift the Orlando Magic to a 117-96 victory over the Celtics on Friday night and a 2-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
“Just the whole team stepped up the defensive intensity,” said Howard, the NBA’s defensive player of the year. “It starts with me. I have to do that every night if we want to be successful.”
Rashard Lewis had 28 points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 24 for Orlando, which played without starting point guard Rafer Alston. He was suspended by the NBA for slapping Boston’s Eddie House in the back of the head in Game 2.
Paul Pierce broke out of his series slump to score 27 points, and Rajon Rondo added 15 for the defending champion Celtics, who trimmed a 20-point deficit to seven before the Magic regained control.
“You give them their inside game and their outside game, then you don’t have a chance,” Pierce said.
Game 4 is Sunday in Orlando, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he won’t spend time enjoying his team’s latest win.
“This is not the time of year to celebrate a win in the playoffs, especially against a team like Boston,” Van Gundy said. “It’s basically like being at halftime with a one-point lead.”
It was the second time this postseason the Magic won with a starter suspended.
Howard lost his cool and threw an elbow at Samuel Dalembert’s head to draw a suspension for Game 6 of their first-round series against Philadelphia – but Orlando still managed to get a blowout win and eliminate the 76ers.
Anthony Johnson had 13 points in place of Alston.
“I can’t explain that,” Van Gundy said about winning two games shorthanded.
But this time, it was the Magic’s big man who made sure a teammate wasn’t missed.
Howard had four blocks in the first half, turning the Celtics into a jumpshooting team much like the Magic did to win Game 1.
On the first play of the second quarter, Howard soared so high he had to brace his left hand against the backboard so he wouldn’t smack his head, swatting Stephon Marbury’s layup attempt into the stands.
It was no different on offense.
Howard sprinted down the middle of the lane to take a pass zipped from the wing by J.J. Redick, gripping the ball with two hands for a thunderous dunk that gave Orlando a 43-31 lead. The Magic would eventually go ahead by 14 points in the period.
“Our defense was awful. They made every shot,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought they were the aggressors and we were the retaliators all night.”