Magic take NBA playoff series opener from Boston

Dwight Howard returned from his one-game suspension to get 16 points and 22 rebounds Monday night and help the Orlando Magic hold off the late-charging Boston Celtics 95-90 in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard

Magic 95 Celtics 90

BOSTON — Dwight Howard returned from his one-game suspension to get 16 points and 22 rebounds Monday night and help the Orlando Magic hold off the late-charging Boston Celtics 95-90 in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Magic opened a 28-point lead early in the second half before Boston cut the deficit to 91-87 in the final 2 minutes.

The Celtics had several chances to come within one possession — the best being Ray Allen’s three-pointer that rimmed out with 43 seconds left.

Paul Pierce made a three-pointer with 6.6 seconds left to make it a three-point game, but J.J. Redick went 4-for-4 from the line in the last 14 seconds to ice it.

“We got complacent as a team, stopped doing what we did to get the lead and against a good Celtics team you can’t do that,” Howard said. “I’m not happy with the way we ended the game.”

Pierce scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and Rajon Rondo had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Boston.

Kendrick Perkins had 16 rebounds for Boston, but Rondo and Allen both went 2 of 12 from the field.

The Magic had a cold spell of their own in the fourth quarter, going just five of 20 from the field to lose most of a once-dominating lead that had the Boston fans booing their team off the court at halftime.

Boston had just one day off since eliminating the Chicago Bulls in a best-of-seven series — 7 3/4, actually — one many consider the best first-round playoff series in NBA history.

The teams played a record four overtime games and seven overtimes periods in all — nearly three extra quarters of basketball.

Orlando finished off Philadelphia in six games on Thursday night, and Howard has been resting up even longer: He was suspended for the series finale for elbowing Sixers centre Samuel Dalembert.

“It felt like I was out 10 games,” Howard said.

“I was a little rusty. We’ll be ready for Game 2.”

Celtics backup point guard Stephon Marbury, who was of little help in the Bulls series, made consecutive rainbow scoop shots and added two more baskets in a span of just over two minutes to help Boston erase an early five-point deficit and take a 30-28 lead with 8:43 left in the first half.

Rockets 100 at Lakers 92

Yao Ming, who briefly left with a knee injury in the closing minutes, had 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead Houton to victory in a physical Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Ron Artest added 21 points and Aaron Brooks had 19 for the Rockets.

Kobe Bryant, who finished a distant second to LeBron James in NBA MVP voting announced earlier Monday, scored 32 points, doing his best to keep the Lakers in the game despite missing practice on Sunday with a sore throat.

Houston forward Shane Battier needed four stitches to close a gash over his left eye late in the first quarter. He returned and scored six points on the night.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

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