ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The Boston Celtics’ big three—and big 3-point attack— come up short Sunday.
The NBA’s best-shooting team, the Celtics found themselves uncharacteristically down 20 points and still trailing after three quarters. They came back and made it close, but Paul Pierce missed an off-balance jumper with time running out and Orlando dealt Boston (8-1) its first loss, 104-102.
“We’re not perfect,” said Kevin Garnett, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “We didn’t think we were going to go 82-0. But we are a team of character. We do play hard. We do play together—just not perfect.”
Garnett, Ray Allen and Pierce were each averaging 20 points. Only Pierce topped the mark Sunday, scoring 28 points and keying several quick runs that brought Boston back. Allen finished with 19, but had just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting before the fourth quarter.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game on the road—two of the top teams in the East right now,” Pierce said.
It was a chance for Orlando (9-2) to show it deserved the conference’s second-best record. The Magic forced 20 Boston turnovers, shot 50.8 percent and won despite the Celtics’ 41-28 rebounding edge. Perhaps more importantly, they didn’t collapse when Boston made a late run.
It was the first time a team shot better than 50 percent against the Celtics and the first time Boston trailed at the half and entering the fourth quarter.
Orlando was up as much as 20, but the Celtics chipped away in the third and fourth quarters. Mounting several small runs, Boston finally claimed its first lead—88-87—halfway through the fourth on consecutive 3’s by Eddie House and James Posey.
“That’s what I said to them after the game—‘It’s great, guys, that you answered the run again, but some nights it’s OK to not let them have a run and just win the game, so I can live to 50,”’ said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.
Two nights after beating Miami by one, the Celtics lost despite shooting 53.3 percent.
The Magic went cold early in the fourth, missing five of their first seven shots and going four minutes without a field goal. Dwight Howard, swarmed reliably by two or three Celtic defenders on each touch, missed several free throws during the scoring drought.
But the Celtics missed easy buckets too, and Jameer Nelson hit two free throws to put Orlando ahead 101-97 with 1:28 left. Rashard Lewis appeared to ice it 1:13 later with two more foul shots, but Ray Allen, who struggled from the field all night, drained a 3 with 7.7 seconds left to draw Boston to 103-102.
Lewis made a free throw, Pierce’s shot bounced off the rim and Howard grabbed the rebound to seal the win.
“The biggest thing for our team was that last year when a team made a run we would kind of fold,” Howard said. “This year, we’re trying to stick to our game plan, and when teams make their run, just calm down, don’t point fingers and stay focused.”
Rajon Rondo scored 18 for Boston on 8-of-9 shooting—including 14 in the second quarter.
The Celtics, off to their best start since a 10-0 beginning to the 1972-73 season, weren’t just winning, they were dominating. Other than the Miami game and a three-point overtime win over Toronto, Boston had won each game by at least 11. The Celtics’ 15-point average margin of victory was a staggering six points better than the second-place Nuggets and Hornets.
“I thought we matched up pretty good with them, but the main thing is we played good defense against them,” Lewis said.
The Celtics and Magic were the NBA’s fifth and sixth-best 3-point teams, but both struggled from long-range. Orlando was 7-of-25, while Boston shot 4-of-16.
Howard and Garnett were called for a double technical in the second quarter after the Magic center was fouled jumping for an alley-oop. Celtics F Brian Scalabrine pulled his jersey and Howard pushed him in frustration. … Posey and Garnett fouled out in the fourth quarter. … Rondo was helped off the court in the second quarter after a hard foul by Keyon Dooling on a fast-break layup. … Orlando got four defensive three-second penalties, while Boston had none.