Pierce leads Celtics over Magic in anticipated clashJan 23, 2009 - 6:15 AM By Zach Chalifour PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce scored 27 points to lead the Boston Celtics to their seventh straight win, a 90-80 victory over the Orlando Magic on Thursday.
In what started as a battle for the best record in the NBA, it was the reigning champs who prevailed, ending the Magic's own seven-game winning streak. The Los Angeles Lakers (34-8) now own the best mark - percentage-wise - after routing the Washington Wizards, 117-97.
Pierce excelled the entire game, consistently keeping the Celtics a step ahead of the Magic.
"The guy is one of the best in the game," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Pierce. "They put the ball in his hands, and he finds ways to beat you."
Kevin Garnett finished with 16 points for Boston (36-9), while Glen Davis scored 14. Each outscored Orlando big man Dwight Howard, who was the top vote-getter when the All-Star starters were announced earlier in the day.
The Celtics kept Howard in check all night, as the MVP candidate finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:30 remaining in the game.
"Our guys did a great job of forcing Dwight to take some shots from further away from the basket where he wasn't quite as comfortable," said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who finished with 12.
The last four of Orlando's seven straight wins came on its recent road trip, which was followed by a five-day layoff since Orlando's win at Denver last Saturday. And it seemed to take its toll.
The Magic (33-9) couldn't get anything going from the opening tip, finishing with a season-low 80 points, including a season-worst, 36-point performance in the first half.
Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis were the only bright spot for the home team. Turkoglu poured in 22 points, including a 4-of-6 performance from behind the arc, while Lewis added 19.
Outside of Turkoglu, however, the Magic struggled mightily from 3-point territory, making just 3-of-15 attempts.
"In two games now against them, I haven't been able to find plays that can get us good looks. We've got to make some adjustments before the next time we play them in March," Van Gundy said.
It was the just opposite story for the Celtics.
Despite being less than 24 hours removed from a 98-83 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday, the visitors didn't miss a beat.
"We played great defense, got them to miss some shots," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "We may have been more game-ready since we had just played the night before, and they had the long layoff, but that can work both ways."
Boston finally opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter, finishing the period with an 11-point lead going into the fourth and never letting the Magic get much closer.
Orlando did cut its deficit to 84-77 on Jameer Nelson's layup with 2:04 to play, but Nelson missed a jump shot following a steal. Two free throws from Davis moved the lead to nine with 1:16 to play to ice the Celtics' win.
"We know we are good, but we lost to another good team," Nelson said. "They did a good job of changing things up on defense, and we just couldn't hit our shots."
Nelson finished with 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field to join the three other players in double figures for the Magic.
ORLANDO 80 FINAL
Jan 22 10:39 PM
ORLANDO 54 END, 3RD QTR
Jan 22 9:57 PM
ORLANDO 36 HALFTIME
Jan 22 9:07 PM
ORLANDO 19 END, 1ST QTR
Jan 22 8:31 PM
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