Good health keyed the Celtics racing to the best record in the Eastern Conference this season, but now another member of the trio will be missing.
Just hours after scoring 16 fourth-quarter points in Tuesday’s 103-94 win over Indiana, Pierce was in so much pain from a right knee infection that coach Doc Rivers says the seven-time All-Star called team trainer Ed Lacerte around 3 a.m. Wednesday. Lacerte took Pierce to the hospital, where they drained fluid from the forward’s knee.
“What he’s going through is pretty significant,” guard Ray Allen(notes) said. “It is serious. Because me knowing Paul, he’s always practicing and he’s always playing, so for him not to be here, it must be very significant.”
Pierce, the 2008 NBA finals MVP, had played in every game this season for the Celtics (22-5), averaging a team-best 18.2 points.
Although the Celtics will be without their top offensive threat, Garnett is expected to play after sitting out Tuesday with a thigh bruise, the first game he missed all season. The 12-time All-Star sat out last season’s playoffs with strained knee ligaments, and Boston was eliminated by the Magic in seven games in the conference semifinals.
A healthy Garnett has helped the Celtics to a fast start, but even with the entire Big Three in uniform, Boston lost to Orlando 83-78 on Nov. 20 in the only meeting since last season’s playoffs.
Pierce had a team-high 21 points, Allen had 15 and Garnett added 13 points and 11 rebounds, but the Celtics shot a season-low 34.5 percent and were 2 of 19 from 3-point range.
This could be another tight defensive game. The Celtics allow a league-low average of 92.0 points and will likely try to keep pressure on Orlando, knowing they can’t rely on Pierce at the offensive end.
Just as Boston, which has won 13 of 14 since losing to the Magic, is getting a little banged-up, Orlando is finally starting to get healthy.
The Magic defeated Houston 102-87 on Wednesday, just the second time this season they began a game with their regular starting five. Two-time All-Star Rashard Lewis(notes) sat out Orlando’s first 10 games while serving a suspension and Jameer Nelson(notes), an All-Star last season, made his first start Wednesday since Nov. 16 after missing 16 contests with a left knee injury.
Despite all the lineup shuffling, the Magic (22-7) look poised to defend the conference championship. It’s no surprise Howard is a big reason why.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had 20 rebounds for the second time in three games Wednesday and blocked four shots. Howard leads the league in both categories, averaging 13.1 boards and 2.5 blocks.
“I know that the only thing that is important is that if I’m blocking shots and rebounding we’re going to win games,” said Howard, who had 15 rebounds and three blocks against the Celtics last month.
The Magic have won seven of the last 10 meetings, including playoffs, as Howard has averaged 17.1 boards and 3.1 blocks.