Celtics’ Veterans Shine in Dramatic Victory Over Dwight Howard, Magic at TD Garden

Celtics' Veterans Shine in Dramatic Victory Over Dwight Howard, Magic at TD GardenFinal: Celtics 109, Magic 106. When things get close, who do you trust? Easy — it's the battle-tested veterans who have won countless games before.

Paul Pierce hits the biggest shot of the night and completes a three-point play to put the Celtics in front, and then Kevin Garnett comes up with a steal in the final seconds to stifle the Magic's comeback hopes. The C's have completed a dramatic win at the TD Garden, getting revenge for their ugly loss down in Orlando on Christmas Day.

Six Celtics finish in double figures, led by Ray Allen with 26. The C's get a double-double from Rajon Rondo (10 points, 13 assists) and a solid effort from Garnett (19 points, eight rebounds) in his first game back. It's a total team effort, Celtic basketball at its finest.

Dwight Howard finishes with 33 points and 13 rebounds, and amazingly, it's not enough.

The Celtics have earned their third straight win, and they'll put that streak on the line Wednesday night, taking on the Detroit Pistons at the TD Garden.

Fourth quarter, 11.5 seconds, Celtics 109-104: Welcome back, KG. That's a game-winning steal for the Big Ticket.

Ray Allen gets to the line and drains two.

Ballgame over.

Fourth quarter, 38.7 seconds, Celtics 107-104: Paul Pierce just did what he does best — drawing contact, getting off a shot, draining it, getting to the line and draining one more for the 3-point play.

Another Orlando timeout. The Celtics are in position to win this thing with one more stop.

Fourth quarter, 1:05, Celtics 104-102: Kevin Garnett gets to the line for two, and he is money.

Now it's Stan Van Gundy's turn to call a timeout and work some magic.

Fourth quarter, 1:15, 102-102: If there's one coach on the planet you can trust to draw up the right play out of a crucial timeout in crunch time, it's Doc Rivers. Time for Doc to prove it.

Rajon Rondo just corralled a huge defensive rebound, and the C's called a timeout. They've got one left.

This next possession will be a big one.

Fourth quarter, 1:44, 102-102: The C's are treading on thin ice. That offensive foul on Kevin Garnett is his fifth.

The Celtics can't afford a single mistake now.

Fourth quarter, 2:15, Celtics 102-101: Just another huge, huge, huge shot from Ray Allen. What else is new?

Ray with the trey, his third of the game. He's now got a team-high 24, and the Celtics are momentarily back in front.

This thing is far from over. The Magic have plenty left in the tank.

Fourth quarter, 4:00, Magic 98-96: Ray Allen drills a 3; Jason Richardson drills one right back.

You can't beat this Magic team in a shootout. They'll keep knocking down jumpers until the end of time.

The Celtics need stops.

Fourth quarter, 4:41, Magic 95-93: Traveling violation from Kevin Garnett, smooth jumper from Hedo Turkoglu. Just like that, the Magic have taken the lead.

The Celtics need to regain their composure on both ends. Their offense looks jumpy, lacking poise; their defense just isn't totally there.

By the way, Dwight Howard now has a double-double with 30 points and 10 boards.

Fourth quarter, 5:23, Celtics 93-92: That was a bad, bad, bad exchange for Shaquille O'Neal. First he misses a layup in transition, which should have been the easiest two points of his life; then he pummels Jameer Nelson and is called for his fifth foul.

The C's are in trouble. They need to get something out of Shaq down the stretch, but he needs to be smart. No more fouls, and no more missing gimmes at the rim.

Fourth quarter, 6:24, Celtics 93-90: The Celtics had just gotten some breathing room at 93-87, and then Jason Richardson drilled a 3 in Ray Allen's face to cut the lead in half again. The Magic will not die quietly, folks.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are both back in the game for the Celtics, who have their full starting five on the floor to close this thing out.

Fourth quarter, 8:41, Celtics 89-87: Dwight Howard now has 30 points, but the Celtics remain a step ahead.

Ray Allen just hit an insane 15-footer in traffic to keep the Celtics ahead. If the C's can keep getting timely shots from their veteran leaders, they've got a chance to hold onto this thing.

Remember, the C's collapsed in the fourth quarter last time against the Magic. They can't let it happen again.

Fourth quarter, 10:18, Celtics 87-83: Shaquille O'Neal comes up with a big play here — a three-point play to pad the Celtics' lead early in the fourth quarter.

Any offense the Celtics get out of Shaq is a bonus at this point. Stopping Dwight Howard needs to be his top priority.

End of third quarter, 81-81: Shaquille O'Neal said Friday night that he wasn't looking forward to taking on Dwight Howard, because he didn't care about individual matchups. Well … it shows.

Shaq has nine points, only one rebound, two turnovers and four fouls. Howard has been an absolute beast with 26 points and nine boards.

Surprisingly, the Celtics' better post defender has been the undersized Glen Davis, who's had just enough energy to keep Superman in check.

The C's need to step up in the fourth quarter to stop Howard, and they need to get something offensively out of their own post guys.

Third quarter, 2:55, Celtics 75-73: Doc Rivers said before tipoff that there'd be no limit on Kevin Garnett's minutes, and he wasn't kidding. So far KG has played 24, and he's probably got a big fourth quarter effort still to come.

KG has been effective so far, though a bit jumpy. Can't argue with 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal. That's a solid night's work.

Third quarter, 4:06, Celtics 73-71: Who's been more disappointing — Shaquille O'Neal, who has only one rebound in his supposedly epic clash with Dwight Howard, or Hedo Turkoglu, who was scoreless at halftime and only recently picked up his first bucket of the ballgame?

Turkoglu has been tremendous defensively on Paul Pierce — his size, strength and nasty physical play have always enabled him to get under Pierce's skin. But the offense has been totally absent in this one. He's 1-for-5 from the field for two total points.

Third quarter, 6:29, Celtics 67-65: The Celtics have been masterful at scoring in the final second of the shot clock. First Rajon Rondo gets a driving layup, then Kevin Garnett knocks down a deep corner two with one second left.

The Celtics are controlling this game, dictating the pace with their patience and ball movement.

Third quarter, 9:05, 61-61: Remember the good old days, when the Celtics could stop the Magic by guarding Dwight Howard straight up? Seems like ages ago.

Superman's now got a game-high 22. Shaquille O'Neal looks about five steps too slow to stay with him.

O Kendrick Perkins, where art thou?

Halftime, Celtics 55-54: It hasn't been pretty, but the Celtics have scratched and clawed their way to a one-point halftime lead over the Orlando Magic.

The C's are whistled for 14 fouls in 24 minutes, plus a last-minute technical foul on coach Doc Rivers, but they still manage to take a 55-54 lead at the break. Ray Allen leads the way with 11 points, Rajon Rondo adds six with eight assists, and Kevin Garnett chips in five with seven rebounds.

As expected, Dwight Howard has been a beast for the Magic. He's got a game-high 18 points, thanks in no small part to his 12 attempts from the free-throw line.

The Celtics have a slight advantage at the break, but they've still got a lot of work to do.

Second quarter, 2:53, Magic 47-46: Things are really getting chippy. The Celtics have been whistled for 11 fouls in this first half, including three on Shaquille O'Neal.

You have to applaud the C's for holding back their emotions, just a tiny bit, to avoid getting T'd up. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers have all come pretty close to getting technicals in the last couple minutes, but they've managed to keep their frustration in check a little bit.

Second quarter, 4:00, 44-44: KG just pulled down his seventh rebound. The entire Orlando team has 10. Close race.

The rebounding might be the biggest thing the Celtics missed during KG's nine-game absence. Glen Davis really wasn't getting it done in that department.

Second quarter, 5:55, Celtics 42-39: Rajon Rondo gets a driving layup, and then a KG steal leads to a transition bucket for Marquis Daniels. The C's rattle off a quick 4-0 run to reclaim the lead.

The Garden is fired up now, and Stan Van Gundy needs a timeout to calm his guys down. The Celtics have retaken control of this game, and KG's not about to give it up without a fight.

Second quarter, 7:08, Celtics 38-34: Kevin Garnett is back to play the final seven minutes of the second quarter, and he's got a full head of steam.

Can he finish the triple-double before halftime?

Second quarter, 8:41, Celtics 33-32: You may not have heard of Ryan Anderson, but you'd better pay attention to him now. The dude's got 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including four 3s.

Luke Harangody is attempting to guard him, and that's not working very well. Doc Rivers might have to make a change soon.

Second quarter, 10:21, Magic 30-29: The Celtics have found themselves in an outside-shooting duel, and this might be the wrong team to challenge to such a fight.

Nate Robinson is attempting to match Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick jumper for jumper. This can't end well.

The C's have four reserves on the floor with Paul Pierce. It's up to the captain to calm this unit down and get them playing efficient basketball.

End of first quarter, Celtics 27-22: We all know the game plan against the Magic — guard Dwight Howard straight up, and the rest takes care of itself. But so far, the Celtics have had no answer for Orlando's Superman.

Howard is 4-for-7 from the field for nine points, while the rest of the Magic are 4-for-13. Stopping everyone else isn't the problem — it's the big fella they need to work on.

Luckily for the C's, they've gotten monster first-quarter efforts out of their own bigs. Shaquille O'Neal has seven points thus far, and Kevin Garnett has himself a solid 4-6-2 stat line in his first game back.

First quarter, 2:50, Celtics 24-14: The Celtics have built a double-digit lead in the first quarter with a thin rotation so far — only Glen Davis has entered for the C's off the bench. Can they hold the lead once the second unit takes over?

We'll soon find out. It looks like Marquis Daniels and Luke Harangody are ambling to the scorer's table to sub in for the two forwards, KG and Paul Pierce.

KG now has four points, six rebounds and two assists. An incredible first nine minutes of his comeback.

First quarter, 4:37, Celtics 17-12: Yet another rebound for Kevin Garnett, who now has four points, five rebounds and two assists. Just a monster first quarter for him.

That said, KG's game hasn't been perfect. A couple of early mistakes from him — he rushed a really ugly jump shot from 21 feet out, and he made a bad pass that was easily deflected by Dwight Howard for a turnover.

KG might be a little too antsy for this first quarter, but that's who KG is. With the way he's producing, it's hard to fault him.

First quarter, 7:03, Celtics 15-6: Last time the Celtics played the Magic, they started out down 13-0; this time, they're up 15-6.

Kevin Garnett has four points and three rebounds — in other words, he's got three times as many boards as Orlando's entire team.

KG and Shaq have been killing it early. They're supposed to be old and fragile, and Dwight Howard's supposed to be the beastly young superstar. So far, it looks to be the other way around.

First quarter, 9:07, Celtics 9-4: The Celtics' post game is looking absolutely dominant. Shaq has five points early, KG has two, and Dwight Howard has already gotten whistled for one hack of Shaq. He's not too happy about it.

The Celtics need to keep getting solid looks inside. The longer they wait before falling into their lazy jump-shooting phase, the better off they'll be.

First quarter, 11:44, Celtics 2-0: Dwight who? Never heard of him. The Celtics open the ballgame, surprisingly, with an easy bucket inside. Shaquille O'Neal is undeterred by Dwight Howard, dropping in a layup to open a 2-0 lead.

If it remains that easy for the C's all night, the Magic are in real trouble.

7:40 p.m.: All the pregame questions for Doc Rivers were about who would play Monday night against the Magic. Would KG? Would Shaq? Would Semih Erden? Would Marquis Daniels?

Answers: Yes, yes, yes and yes. The C's are fully loaded and ready to go.

Doc clarified that players not active Monday include Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O'Neal, Delonte West, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Good to know, right?

6 p.m.: Welcome to the TD Garden, where Kevin Garnett is on the floor with his Celtic teammates, going through a brief walkthrough before the C's tilt Monday night with the Orlando Magic. For the moment, it looks like KG will play.

C's coach Doc Rivers addresses the media at 7:05, so we'll have more definite word on that soon.

8 a.m.: Celtics coach Doc Rivers was nonchalant on Sunday afternoon when asked about spending the last nine games without veteran leader Kevin Garnett.

"Losing Kevin means losing your best defensive player, and your best talker, and your quarterback," the coach said. "But outside of that, it's not that big of a deal."

That's all. It's really nothing.

The Celtics have been without Garnett since Dec. 29, when the star forward went down with a lower leg injury in a loss to Detroit. KG has been around the team constantly ever since — behind the scenes at practice, chatting up teammates in the locker room before and after games — but he's still yet to play.

There's a hope that come Monday night, when the Celtics take on the Orlando Magic at the TD Garden, that will change.

The C's are out to avenge their ugly Christmas Day loss to the Magic, 86-78 at the Amway Center in Orlando, and they're hoping to be at full strength for the first time in weeks as KG nears a return.

Garnett went the Celtics' entire practice Sunday, which means he's likely to return to the Garden floor to take on Orlando. But Rivers was quick to clarify that the practice was only the first step in prepping KG to return — the second step is making sure there are no complications in the 24 hours that follow the practice session.

The Celtics will surely keep a close eye on Garnett's progress throughout the day Monday. If there are no unforeseen setbacks, then you can probably look forward to seeing the C's, fully loaded, take on the Magic in a rematch of last month's Christmas massacre.

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