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CELTICS 117, MAGIC 96

Blount works some magic as Celtics roll

Mark Blount and Juwan Howard went out to dinner Sunday night at a local steak establishment. Blount picked up the check. Howard picked up a stomach flu. But Orlando really paid last night as Blount recorded career highs in points (28) and rebounds (21) in the Celtics' 117-96 victory over the Magic at the FleetCenter.

It was the center's fifth straight double-double, but that was just one of many impressive accomplishments on an evening that ended with the Celtics on a three-game winning streak and back in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Not to mention the fact that they put the game away by opening the fourth quarter with a 25-0 run.

In his six-year stint with the Celtics, Paul Pierce could not recall a night on the glass like the one Blount produced. For good reason. Before Pierce arrived, Antoine Walker recorded 21 rebounds in a loss to Orlando on March 21, 1997.

But you have to go further back in the books for a scoring and rebounding performance that comes close to the one Blount had. For the record, the last Boston player to score more than 20 points and pull down more than 20 rebounds was Ed Pinckney, who had 21 points and 22 rebounds against Milwaukee on April 19, 1994.

"I was just playing," said Blount. "We had a game to win. So I just went out there and tried to get it the best way I could. I'm blue-collar. I'm going to work and keep working."

His teammates were far more effusive.

"He was incredible," said Pierce (25 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds). "It was like everything that came around him he got his hands on it.

"I can probably be 100 percent sure no one has grabbed that many rebounds in a game since I have been a Celtic. And that is an amazing feat."

While games between the Celtics and Magic are traditionally billed as scoring contests between two of the league's young All-Stars in Tracy McGrady and Pierce, Blount stole the show in the third quarter before an appreciative crowd of 13,636. The 7-footer posted 14 points and 7 rebounds in that period alone, helping the Boston offense through a tough stretch.

Until the closing minutes of the third quarter, the game had been frustratingly close. The Magic, the worst team in the NBA, spent most of the second and third periods nursing a slight advantage, even with their No. 2 scorer, Howard, a scratch because of his illness. Boston shot 44 percent in the first half and trailed, 57-56, at the break. But behind Blount (13 for 21), Boston shot 56 percent in the second half.

With 3 minutes 23 seconds remaining in the third and the score tied, 77-77, Blount went to work again. He scored 6 of the Celtics' final 8 points in the quarter as they staged a 10-3 run to go ahead, 87-82. The rest of the team got on a roll in the fourth.

Boston opened the final quarter with a 25-0 run, easily putting the game away. It featured 3-pointers from Walter McCarty and Chucky Atkins, fast-break baskets from Ricky Davis, and, of course, more points and rebounds from Blount. McCarty started the run with a shot from behind the arc, then he stole the ball. Davis turned the bonus possession into a reverse layup on the run. The spurt ended with McCarty finding Davis for a 3-pointer that pushed Boston ahead, 112-82, with 4:32 remaining.

"I just thought that there was no way I was going to make a sub until it stopped, just let the run keep going on," said interim coach John Carroll. "[It] was a pretty lonely feeling a week or so ago [in Portland, when the Blazers staged a 22-0 run to start the first quarter]. Sometimes you see the sun and sometimes you see the rain. Tonight, we saw the sun in terms of our burst in the fourth quarter."

The Magic did not score until Drew Gooden hit a pair of free throws with 4:19 left. By that time, the game was essentially over. Boston proceeded to pile on the points with reserves; even Kendrick Perkins got into the game with 2:12 left (he didn't score). The Celtics ended up outscoring the Magic, 30-14, in the final quarter.

"That's just how the season has been going," said McGrady (29 points), who went scoreless in the fourth in large part because of Davis's defensive efforts. "That doesn't surprise me. We played well for three quarters. In the fourth quarter, those guys came up with a burst of energy I didn't think they were capable of coming out with.

"The shots just weren't falling for us. For a minute, we were trading baskets, so everything was going fine. But at the start of the fourth quarter we couldn't buy a basket."

For the second straight night, it was Blount's turn to treat.

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