Magic 86, Celtics 78

Holiday break

Celtics’ win streak is snapped by Magic

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 26, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — When the Orlando Magic lit up the lines and made trades to bring in Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark, the timing was odd and the names were big, but the motives were clear. They retooled because they simply didn’t have enough artillery to get themselves any further than they got last season, when they lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

They could hardly consider yesterday’s Christmas Day dance with the Celtics as a measuring stick — not when they were still in the post-trade meet-and-greet stage — but after digging in during the fourth quarter to pull out an 86-78 win at Amway Center, the Magic were an emotional bunch, letting out roars, slapping hands, and bumping chests, feeling they had made a statement.

Slumped in his chair in the visiting locker room, his team’s 14-game winning streak over, Celtics forward Glen Davis acted as if he didn’t get the message.

“They can’t beat us,’’ said Davis, who played a season-high 39 minutes off the bench, scoring 16 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. “They can’t. We’ve got just too many guys.

“They came out and they played better than us today. But you talk about a seven-game series, I don’t think they can beat us.’’

But the Magic, two days after snapping San Antonio’s 10-game winning streak, broke through the Celtics, beating the league’s two best teams with their made-over roster.

The game was far from instructional-tape material.

The Celtics shot a season-low 34.6 percent to the Magic’s 39.4. The Celtics’ Nate Robinson missed 13 of 15 shots. Arenas and Richardson went a combined 4 of 17.

“I don’t think we taught a lot of basketball in the first three quarters — let’s put it that way,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

The Magic trailed most of the afternoon, but opportunity knocked in the fourth quarter when Shaquille O’Neal fouled out. The Celtics went up, 71-62, when Davis hit a 17-footer with 7:42 left, but from there the Magic took over.

They outscored the Celtics, 24-7, in the final seven minutes, and the man who dealt the daggers wasn’t one of the new imports. Richardson and Arenas scored 5 points apiece, and Turkoglu dropped 16, drilling four threes). And it wasn’t Dwight Howard, who was all but bottled up (6 points on 1-of-4 shooting).

It was one of the Magic’s cornerstones: Jameer Nelson, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Sprinting down the floor and pulling up not far from the Boston bench, he knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:19 left that staggered the Celtics. They’d never recover.

“Jameer willed that game for them,’’ said Rivers. “He’s got the biggest heart on the team. He’s just a warrior and he does it all the time.

“Give him the credit. I thought he was phenomenal. I thought he was on the floor and he just kept pushing that team. You could see it. That’s what he does. A lot of people miss that in him.’’

The disappointment of last season’s playoff loss still lingers in the Magic locker room, and they’re aware that they’ll have to go through Boston to get to the Finals. This was affirming.

“It’s a very emotional game,’’ said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “We have a history with them. People talk about rivalries, but rivalries are forged in the playoffs.

“We’ve played them — what? — 21 times in the last two years going into today? You’ve seen a lot of each other. The games have been meaningful. It’s that intense emotion.’’

The Magic are 2-2 since the additions arrived, and even if they’re still an unknown, with the last two wins they’ve earned a level of respect.

“They’re still going through the phase where they’re still learning one another,’’ said Paul Pierce (18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists). “But they’re definitely going to be a dangerous team. That’s the scary part.

“They won against the top two teams in the NBA and they’re still trying to figure each other out.’’

Do the Celtics feel like the Magic are more of a threat than they were pre-trade?

“No less, no more,’’ said Ray Allen. “They’re a team we have to beat. They’re going to be good and they’re going to beat us if we let them do what they’re comfortable with.’’

Still, the Magic took three of four regular-season games against the Celtics last season, and even with the upgrades, Rivers said, “They still run the same thing. Everything they ran, they ran last year. It’s just different positions.’’

“They won today,’’ Davis said. “That’s all that matters. Tip your hat off. So far, their trade has been good. They beat San Antonio. Now, they’ve beat the Celtics, but you’ve still got a lot more season to play.’’

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