Kevin Garnett made a triumphant return to the Celtics lineup tonight, notching 19 points and 8 rebounds as the Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 109-106 in a wildly entertaining game at TD Garden. In the process, Garnett erased any concerns about rust or about the severity of a leg injury that kept him out for three weeks.
With the game tied, Paul Pierce converted a 3-point play with 38.7 seconds left to give the Celtics a 107-104 lead. But in a game with 26 lead changes, that margin seemed anything but safe. On the ensuing Orlando possession, Garnett showed just how powerful his defensive energy can be, stealing the ball from Magic point guard Jameer Nelson and finding Ray Allen up ahead of the field for two free throws that sealed the game. The play was vintage Garnett. The situation called for exactly that.
The Celtics looked like they might put this one away early. They got off to a 27-22 lead after the first quarter thanks to 60-percent shooting. In his first game action since Dec. 29, Garnett had 4 points and 6 rebounds in the first. More than stats, though, Garnett's start foretold of his expected efficacy for the rest of the game and possibly the season of the season. He moved with purpose and without hiccups. In other words, he looked like himself.
As fluid as the first quarter was, the second sputtered to a standstill with lesser shooting and unwanted fouls. The Celtics sent the Magic to the line a staggering 18 times in the second -- Dwight Howard got there 10 times himself. With all of the stoppages in play, a game that the league had pegged as a showcase looked as if it might drag on past midnight.
The teams failed to gain separation in the third as the game saw nine ties in the quarter. The two biggest chips in Orlando's blockbuster midseason deals -- Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas -- shot a combined 3 of 11 through three. Turkoglu scored all 11 of his points in the second half, but his resurrgence proved too late.
Howard finished the game with 33 points to lead all scorers. Allen led te Celtics with 26.
With the win the Celtics rise to 31-9 on the season. They host the Detroit Pistons Weds. night here at TD Garden.
Final: Celtics 109, Magic 106: Two free throws by Dwight Howard aren't enough. Celtics win.
11.5 seconds 4th quarter, Celtics 109-104: Garnett steals the ball from Nelson and passes ahead to Ray Allen, who was fouled by J.J. Redick. Allen hits both free throws and this one's over.
38.7 seconds 4th quarter, Celtics 107-104: Jameer Nelson ties it, but Pierce's patented step-back move -- and one -- drops and brings this place to a frenzy.
1:05 4th quarter, Celtics 104-102: Two free throws for Garnett. It's closing time for both teams.
1:15 4th quarter, Tied at 102: An illegal screen on KG negates another Allen three. Howard gets an offensive rebound but gets swallowed up on the putback. Five fouls for Garnett. Celtics ball.
2:14 4th quarter, Celtics 102-101: It's a shooting show. Allen answers Turkoglu's 3-pointer.
4:41 4th quarter, Magic 95-93: After shooting poorly all game, the Magic have heated up at the right time. A jumper by Turkoglu puts them back into the lead. This team is scary with Dwight Howard (30 points) playing the way he is in addition to all of the perimiter firepower.
6:35 4th quarter, Celtics 93-87: Allen has the hot hand, but he passed up a jumper on the last possession. Pierce and Garnett back in for the finish.
8:41 4th quarter, Celtics 89-87: Big jumper by Ray Allen gives him 16 points for the game. Is now the time to bring in Pierce and Garnett? Shaq's out there now and playing great. He's at 22 minutes, though.
Shockingly, the Celtics are still shooting 60 percent, while the Magic are down at 49 percent.
End 3d quarter, Tied at 81: Tied again. Sensing a theme. Might be good to look ahead again. Pierce has played a team-high 32 minutes, while Garnett has played 24. Figure both of them to start the fourth quarter on the bench and come in for the last eight. Stick Rondo, Allen, and Big Baby out there and ride this thing to the end.
4:17 3d quarter, Tied at 71: Just as no Celtics were in double-figures before, four starters have reached that mark now, while Shaquille O'Neal is nine points. It's like the Celtics starters are making sure no one player scores twice in a row.
9:17 3d quarter, Tied at 61: For all the talk about him before the game, Hedo Turkoglu is scoreless so far.
Halftime, Celtics 55-54: Instead of looking back, let's look ahead. Kevin Garnett picked up his third personal foul near the end of the half, which could be huge in the second half considering Shaquille O'Neal already has three fouls. Glen Davis has a clean slate, but he'll need help guarding Dwight Howard.
The Magic had six free throws in the first quarter but shot a staggering 18 of them in the second, much to the dismay of the home crowd. Howard is 8 of 12 from the stripe.
3:31 2d quarter, Magic 47-46: Phantom foul call on Kevin Garnett sends Dwight Howard to the line. If anything the foul was on Davis, who was guarding Howard. Fans here are not amused at how often Howard is getting to the line (eight times so far).
4:13 2d quarter, Celtics 44-43: No Celtics in double-figures means they're spreading the ball around nicely.
8:41 2d quarter, Celtics 33-32: Someone needs to make Ryan Anderson put it on the floor. The Magic big man has 14 points off the bench and has made 4 of 5 3-pointers. That's his speciality. Take it away.
End 1st quarter, Celtics 27-22: Strong start for the C's, who shoot 60 percent from the field in the first to Orlando's 40 percent. Ray Allen and Shaq each had 7 points.
Allen Watch: With Reggie Miller in the building, Allen is now 30 3-pointers shy of topping Miller's all-time NBA mark of 2,560.
3:55 1st quarter, Celtics 20-12: Glen Davis just passed up a layup, got the ball back, and hit a 15-footer. I couldn't hate that play more, but Baby kills it from that spot.
7:03 1st quarter, Celtics 15-6: Kevin Garnett really looks fantastic. He's got 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist, but it's the little things. He's moving well. On the assist, he clapped his hands right after, clearly pleased with being back on the court and making a good pass. Now if we can just get an alley-oop all will be right with the world.
10:08 1st quarter, Celtics 7-2: Shaq takes a feed baseline, draws the foul on Dwight Howard, and converts the basket. Shaq makes Howard looks small. This is why he's here.
Pregame: Let's get it on.
A few fans yelled out during the "60 seconds of silence" for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Shameful. The silence had to be cut short after maybe 25 seconds. Loud cheers for Kevin Garnett as he was introduced for his first start in three weeks