BOSTON — There was no Kevin Garnett, no Rajon Rondo, and for a quarter-and-and-half, no Glen Davis.
But the visiting Orlando Magic had no sympathy yesterday for the Boston Celtics and the injuries suffered by the aforementioned trio. Orlando took it to the host Celtics in front of a sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden, coming away with an 86-79 victory in a battle between two of the league's elite teams.
The Magic (46-16) led by as much as 22 points in the contest, and led 51-33 at the half. They held the Celtics (49-15) to just 15 first-quarter points and maintained a double-figure lead for the majority of the game. Things didn't get uncomfortable for Orlando until Boston guard Ray Allen (32 points, nine rebounds) went on a personal 9-0 run in the final three minutes to cut the deficit to 82-79 with 1:22 left. But Allen later missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer and the Magic held the C's scoreless the rest of the way.
Garnett missed his eighth straight game with a knee injury, starting point guard Rondo was a game time scratch with a sprained right ankle and Davis, who started in place of Garnett, sprained his right ankle with 6:25 left in the third.
Nevertheless, Magic veteran reserve guard Tyronn Lue saw all things equal.
"I didn't play, and KG (Garnett) didn't play, so it's a wash," joked Lue while eating his postgame meal in the locker room after not playing due to a coach's decision.
But in all seriousness, the Magic were also playing without their starting point guard, all-star Jameer Nelson, who has been out since Feb. 4 with a shoulder injury. Also, All-NBA center Dwight Howard was only able to play 28 minutes due to foul trouble. But the super athletic 6-foot-11 big man still dominated the paint for the Magic with 18 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks — two of which were swatted into the third row for dramatic effect.
You throw in the fact that the Magic won in a hostile environment where the Celtics are 26-6, and it's clear that this was a big win for Orlando, regardless of who suited up for the Green.
"You have to play against who's playing and not worry about who isn't playing," said Magic point guard Rafer Alston, who had 10 points and eight assists in 32 minutes. "That's the NBA; that's professional sports. Injuries are part of the game. When I played on Houston, we didn't have Yao (Ming) for almost a whole year, and nobody gave us sympathy.
"(Boston) is still a tough team without those guys."
The beauty of having a Big Three is that when one guy goes down, you still have two more. Allen and all-star forward Paul Pierce were both in uniform for the C's and played 46 and 45 minutes respectively. Allen did indeed play a strong game, but scored 23 of his points in the second half. He was held relatively quiet during the meat and potatoes portion of the game, as Orlando got hot and built a big advantage on the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, Pierce struggled all game, shooting just 5-for-15 for 16 points.
"It makes things easier not seeing guys like Garnett and Rondo, but at the same time you know you're going to see more of Pierce and Allen," said Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy. "Ray Allen was a featured guy in this league and a No. 1 guy for a long time. Now he gets a chance to do that on certain nights. Pierce wasn't having a great day, so they went to Allen a lot more and everyone knows when given the opportunity, Allen still comes through."
Van Gundy also credited his team for beating the Celtics at their own game — defense. The Magic held Boston to just 39-percent shooting from the floor and 2-of-10 from behind the arch.
"It became a game that we didn't want to play with them; push and shove," said Van Gundy, whose team shot only 16 free throws to Boston's 24. "We won this game with defense, it certainly wasn't our offense."
Alston was picked up before the trade deadline to fill Nelson's spot at point guard, and the Celtics also used their recent acquisition, Stephon Marbury, to fill the injured Rondo's spot.
Marbury appeared in his fifth game with the Celtics and his first start. While Alston was solid, the 32-year-old former all-star Marbury wasn't particularly effective. He had four points and no assists in 21 minutes.
"My legs are starting to come back to me," said Marbury, who missed the entire season prior to Feb. 27 due to a contract dispute with his old team the Knicks. "The games are my practice, and playing more (yesterday) definitely helps my legs."
With Rondo's return unknown, Marbury may have to progress fast, as will the rest of the bench with Garnett out for at least another week and Davis' return also unknown.
"We have enough talent to win and right now this is what we got," said Boston center Kendrick Perkins, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "Everyone just needs to do their job a little bit better."
Boston, which is also without the services of Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen, is now two back in the loss column behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also battling with their share of injuries. The Magic sit three back in the loss column.
The team that can cope with health problems the best, will most likely earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which could ultimately result in a berth in the NBA Finals.
Matt Langone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.