Battered and bruised for much of the season, a healthy Boston slowed Dwight Howard for most of the game.
ORLANDO - The hair is a little grayer. The ankles and knees no longer so sturdy. Even with a roster full of aging superstars, the Celtics are still standing tall. Too old to chase a title? Not these days.
Ray Allen scored 25 points, Paul Pierce had 22 and Boston used smothering defense to beat Orlando 92-88 on Sunday in the Eastern Conference finals opener.
Hampered by injuries, the Celtics limped their way through parts of the regular season. All that seems a distant memory now.
"I honestly say we lost ourselves," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I think we've found ourselves again."
Rasheed Wallace added 13 points as the Celtics built a 20-point lead, then held on late to end Orlando's 14-game winning streak. They held the Magic to 41 percent shooting -- 22 percent from three-point range.
"There were stretches in the season, we know each other so well now, where we were becoming less patient with each other," Allen said. "We were getting on each other a little too much. We can take it, but we respected each other.
Vince Carter had 23 points and Jameer Nelson finished with 20 for Orlando, which cut the lead to two in the final seconds but simply ran out of time, looking rusty after a six-day layoff. Dwight Howard was limited to 13 points and 12 rebounds, nowhere near the dominant force the Magic need to win a title.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Orlando.
"I don't think it was rusty. Just anxious," Howard said. "We dug ourselves a hole, and it was tough to get back from."
The Celtics outhustled and outmuscled the Magic at every step defensively. They pushed and pulled their way around the paint, slowing Howard for most of the game.
The sweat pouring from their faces, Kevin Garnett and Co. stifled the Magic as well as anyone in these playoffs, holding them to 32 points in the first half.
The Magic lost for the first time since April 2 at San Antonio.
|Coll of Charleston||53|
|William & Mary||57|
|(17) Florida State||110|
|(9) Oregon State||68||FINAL|
|(13) Arizona State||57|
|(12) North Carolina||67|