Orlando, Fla. Into the stands. Off the backboard or in another player’s face, Dwight Howard sent Boston Celtics’ shots everywhere.
Howard had 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lift the Orlando Magic to a 117-96 victory over the Celtics on Friday night and a 2-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
“Just the whole team stepped up the defensive intensity,” said Howard, the NBA’s defensive player of the year. “It starts with me. I have to do that every night if we want to be successful.”
Rashard Lewis had 28 points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 24 for Orlando, which played without starting point guard Rafer Alston. He was suspended by the NBA for slapping Eddie House in the back of the head in Game 2.
Paul Pierce broke out of his series slump to score 27 points, and Rajon Rondo added 15 for the defending champion Celtics, who trimmed a 20-point deficit to seven before the Magic regained control.
“You give them their inside game and their outside game, then you don’t have a chance,” Pierce said.
Game 4 is Sunday in Orlando, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he won’t spend time enjoying his team’s latest win.
“This is not the time of year to celebrate a win in the playoffs, especially against a team like Boston,” Van Gundy said. “It’s basically like being at halftime with a one-point lead.”