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Dwight Howard scored 18 with 15 rebounds, making a pair of free throws with 13.9 seconds left to ice it after Boston cut a 22-point deficit to three, and the Orlando Magic held on to beat the Celtics 86-79 on Sunday.
Ray Allen had 17 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, scoring nine straight to make it 82-79 with 1:22 to play. But Allen hit the back of the rim on a 3-point attempt from the left side that would have tied it with 41 seconds to play.
Rashard Lewis hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game, but Eddie House missed his 3-point try and Howard iced it with his free throws.
Lewis scored 15 and Rafer Alston had 10 points and eight assists for Orlando, which won its fourth straight and moved two games behind second-place Boston in the Eastern Conference playoff race. One game after turning back Cleveland to grab the tiebreaker edge in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics offered a feeble start on their home court against third-place Orlando.
The Magic led by seven points after one and 18 after two as Boston posted its lowest-scoring first quarter and half of the season.
Orlando led by 22 points in the third quarter before the Celtics and their fans woke up. Trailing 68-47 with 2:14 left, Leon Powe dunked to start a 9-1 run to end the quarter; Allen made it 11 of 12 points with a pair of free throws to start the fourth that cut the deficit to 69-58.
Pierce made two free throws with 9:33 left to give him 18,246 in his career and pass Hall of Famer Robert Parish for third on the Celtics' career list. Larry Bird is next, with 21,791.
Allen's 3-pointer cut it to seven points with 3:21 left, and he drove to the basket to make it 82-77 with 2:17 to play. He was fouled on a drive to the basket, and his two free throws cut Orlando's lead to three points.
But after Courtney Lee missed a foul-line jumper and Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Allen got open on the left side and missed his 3-point try. Lewis' free throws ended a 3 1/2-minute scoreless streak for Orlando.
The Celtics fell to 5-3 since All-Star forward Kevin Garnett went out with a strained muscle in his right knee and fell one game behind the Cavaliers in the East. Boston holds the tiebreaker edge with the Magic, winning two of their three games this season, and leads the Cavs 2-1 head-to-head with an April 12 matchup in Cleveland left to play.
Already missing Garnett, who missed his eighth straight game with a strained muscle in his right knee, the Celtics also sat out point guard Rajon Rondo to allow him to rest the right ankle he sprained on Friday night. Garnett's backup, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, left Sunday's game with 6:25 left in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain and did not return.
Notes: Boston scored 15 points in the first quarter and 33 in the first half. The Celtics have lost their last three Sunday afternoon games at home.
This program aired on March 9, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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