Boston, MA (Sports Network) - Dwight Howard scored 16 and pulled down 22 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic, despite nearly blowing a 28-point third quarter lead, held off Boston, 95-90, in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The reigning NBA champions were coming off a grueling first-round win over Chicago in a series that went to seven games, including four overtime contests totaling seven extra sessions. That series ended Saturday night, and the Celtics seemed sluggish in the first half on Monday, settling for jump shots, but turned up the defense in the second half.
"There was no fatigue," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "I don't believe in that. We had a whole day off, we ain't making no excuses. There was no fatigue. We played flat, we played with no energy in the first half, but it wasn't the fatigue factor. Why, I don't know. Obviously I've got to do something to get them going better."
The Magic used a dominating 37-7 run bridging the end of the first half into the third quarter, to build a 65-37 cushion before the Celtics rallied and nearly stole Game 1, but 15 turnovers, including seven from Rajon Rondo, were the back-breaker for the Celtics.
Rashard Lewis added 18 points and Mickael Pietrus added 17 for the Magic. Howard, who was coming off a one-game suspension when he missed last Thursday's series-securing victory at Philadelphia, also blocked three shots.
"In the locker room obviously we were upset that we let them back in the game, but at the end of the day it's still a victory if you win by one or if you win by 20," said Lewis. "We're up 1-0 in the series, getting a win on their home court is really big especially for us. We've just got to learn how to keep a lead and win, but obviously we got the win and we're happy about that."
Paul Pierce tallied 23 points for the Celtics, while Rondo ended with 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Glen Davis added 12 points before fouling out and Kendrick Perkins pulled down 16 rebounds.
The starting backcourt of Rondo and Ray Allen combined to shoot 4-of-24 from the field.
Game 2 is Wednesday, again at TD Banknorth Garden.
The Magic went just 5-of-20 from the field in the final quarter, and even though the Celtics held a 28-17 scoring advantage, the hill was too much to climb.
Boston scrambled back late in the third quarter, closing the gap to 76-62 following a Davis jumper in the final minute. Anthony Johnson then drove into the lane, was fouled by Perkins with 0.4 seconds left and canned both foul shots.
The Celtics, encouraged by the roar of the crowd, kept rallying and were within single-digits as Brian Scalabrine nailed two foul shots for an 82-73 difference with 8 1/2 minutes left.
Pierce's three-pointer had the hosts within 89-83 with 2:42 left, and he then came up with a steal, leading to a Davis reverse layup.
Rafer Alston, though, got a running shot to fall for the Magic. Pierce countered with two foul shots for a 91-87 margin, but a Rondo turnover and a missed Allen three-pointer prevented Boston from coming all the way back.
"I thought for the first 30-32 minutes we probably played the best we've played all year and then for the last 16 minutes we've played as poorly as we possibly could at both ends of the floor," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "We could not handle Rajon Rondo's pressure. They had us flattened out totally offensively and they were just driving the ball."
Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu committed a crucial error by not getting the ball across midcourt in the allotted eight seconds, causing a turnover with 35.1 seconds left, but Pierce missed on a drive to the hoop and J.J. Redick hit four foul shots over the final 13.1 seconds left to seal Orlando's win.
Pierce made a rainbow three with 6.6 seconds left for a 93-90 difference before Redick calmly sank two free throws.
Lewis hit his final six shots of the opening quarter, and a three-pointer from Pietrus at the conclusion gave the visitors a 24-19 lead.
The Magic continued to apply pressure, forcing Boston to settle for jump shots, especially after Pierce picked up his third foul with nearly four minutes remaining in the half.
Davis canned a jumper to bring Boston within 36-32, but Johnson countered with a three-pointer. Howard's hanging shot near the basket turned into a three- point play as he was fouled by Perkins with 2:09 to go in the half, expanding Orlando's lead to 44-34. Howard followed that with a layup and Pietrus drove in for another easy bucket after Davis missed a jumper.
Turkoglu's jumper, just inside the top of the arc with 17.2 seconds left, provided the 54-36 halftime margin.
The Celtics didn't attempt a single free throw in the half, while Pierce, Allen and Rondo combined to shoot 5-of-22.
Rondo then made 10-of-12 free throws in the third quarter alone and Boston finished 22-of-26 at the foul line, but it wasn't enough.
"I thought in the third quarter Rondo really set the tone with his defense in the way he pushed the ball," said Pierce. "He really got us out on the break and we started getting consecutive stops and we allowed ourselves to get back in the ball game, but we can't wait until we're down 25, 26 to wake up. It's like a boxing match and you get hit with a hook and an uppercut and then you decide to fight. We can't do that. We've got to take the fight to them from the start."
The Celtics played their entire first-round series without All-Star power forward Kevin Garnett, who is expected to be out for the remainder of the playoffs with a knee injury...The Magic continue to play minus shooting guard Courtney Lee, who is out with a fracture sinus after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from Howard in the first round...The Magic and Celtics have met in the playoffs just once, with Orlando earning a 3-1 win in the 1995 Eastern Conference quarterfinals...Turkoglu had 15 points and Redick scored 12...Scalabrine had 10 points.