ORLANDO, Fla. The Boston Celtics will be the first to admit that they aren’t playing their best defensive basketball right now.
But having two of the league’s best closers and one of its top point guards certainly helps with the rough patches.
Kevin Garnett had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Paul Pierce added 23 points and Rajon Rondo was one rebound shy of a triple double with 15 points and 16 assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Orlando Magic 116-110 in overtime Sunday night.
The win was their second straight overall and sixth consecutive over the Magic.
Pierce had 14 points after halftime, and said that despite his team’s recent struggles defensively, it was a much needed character building kind of victory.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Finding a way to win. Not feeling sorry for ourselves late about giving up a pretty good lead. And just finding a way to grind it out. And that’s what we did.”
J.J. Redick scored 21 and Jameer Nelson had 20 for the Magic, whose loss snapped a two-game win streak.
Orlando led by as many as seven in the fourth quarter, but had 19 turnovers that led to 23 Celtics’ points. It was the seventh straight game in which the Magic have had at least 15 turnovers. It was also the latest in a string of games in which their own miscues cost them a win.
“We had our chances. We definitely had our chances in overtime,” Redick said. “We had a couple of bad possessions offensively. We’ll learn from that. …You can talk about experience or execution. They just executed better than us in the end.”
After some early back-and-forth, the Celtics broke the overtime stalemate and took a 113-108 lead on a 3-pointer by Pierce, and layup by Rondo with 1:37 left.
Nelson scored on a driving layup to trim it to three and the Magic got the ball back after Rondo came up with air on a 21-footer as the shot clock wound down.
But Nelson fired up an off balance 3 on Orlando’s ensuing touch, and following a foul, Garnett connected 1 of 2 free throws on the other end to make it 114-110 to lock up the victory.
“Overall I thought we didn’t play very well. I thought they played great,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They played hard. It’s like I said before the game, if you don’t come in this game and play them and don’t think hard basketball, you’re not going to win.
“Whether you have more talent or not, I thought that was a good lesson for our guys,” Rivers said.
It was a disappointing finish for what was a masterful second half by Nelson in which he carried the Magic nearly singlehandedly with 17 points in the final two quarters and overtime.
“Overall we did a good job of playing against their veteran team,” Nelson said. “We’ve got such a young team. There’s a lot we can learn from this game.”
Nelson scored the Magic’s final eight points of the third quarter, including a fade away jumper to end the period to give the Magic a two-point edge entering the fourth.
The lead grew as big as seven on a 3-pointer by Arron Afflalo with just over eight minutes remaining.
The Celtics weren’t deterred, though, and immediately went on a 10-2 run to take the lead back at 98-97.
Redick tied it again at 100 with a 3-pointer, but couldn’t connect on a lob to Afflalo after chasing down a loose ball.
The Celtics returned the favor with a turnover of their own, leading to a driving layup by Glen Davis. Boston quickly tied it again, and collected a rebound on its next possession after a missed jumper by Nelson with 30.4 left.
After a Celtics’ timeout, Garnett missed an open jumper just inside the free throw line, but the ball caromed off a Magic player giving them another chance.
But Pierce missed a leaning jumper at the buzzer to send it to overtime.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn shared Nelson’s take on the positives that can come out of Sunday’s setback.
“This is a great experience for us,” Vaughn said. “We had guys contribute off the bench. Josh (McRoberts) came in and played some great minutes for us in regulation and overtime. And it’s a great sign to see guys wanting to play, waiting to play for each other, and contributing. So we’ll put it all together.”
The Celtics return home on Wednesday for a pair of home games, beginning with Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Though they still have several kinks to work out on the defensive end during their days off from game action, Garnett said he likes where his team is right now.
The numbers might say otherwise right now, but he said their identity is still rooted in defense.
“We’re a defensive team that can score the basketball,” Garnett said. “We always have been. As long as Doc’s going to be here, that’s how it’s going to be.”