ORLANDO, Fla. - The Celtics have had some rough road experiences this season. But after skidding off course on the West Coast and being routed in Cleveland they appear to have regained their sense of direction.
But the guiding force came from an unexpected source last night, Glen Davis leading the way in the final quarter of a 90-80 win over Orlando, the Celtics' seventh successive victory.
Davis scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and also defended against Dwight Howard, who scored only 5 points in the final 40:11 and fouled out with 2:30 to play.
The Celtics (36-9) overtook Orlando (33-9), which had been tied with the Lakers for the best record in the NBA and was riding a seven-game winning streak. And the Celtics proved they could win away from home against an elite team, after losing on the road to the Lakers and Cleveland.
"We didn't want to go down as having lost on the floors of the top four teams in the NBA," guard Ray Allen said.
Coach Doc Rivers said before the game he considered the Magic to be playing better than any team in the league. Orlando, 16-3 since Dec. 12, entered averaging 111 points at home and on an 11-game home winning streak.
But the Celtics pressured point guard Jameer Nelson with Rajon Rondo, then collapsed their defense on Howard (11 points, 11 rebounds) and frustrated the Magic's inside game.
"You never know when you will have to step up on this team," said Davis, who stayed in the lineup with the starters in the final quarter in place of Kendrick Perkins. "I've been putting in a lot of hard work shooting that midrange jump shot."
But Davis's defense on Howard was just as impressive. In fact, Perkins was at the scorer's table set to replace Davis, but he was playing so well that Rivers called Perkins back to the bench.
"You can't let [Howard] have a good game, or a funny game," Davis said. "When he's smiling, he is feeling good and he plays good. We tried to discomfort him, make him feel angry and frustrated. No smiles and a lot of frowns. We got a lot of frowns from Dwight, so that means we had a good night. We tried to aggravate him and be a pest, not give him anything easy and make him go to the line. We wanted to box him out every time, put a body on him."
Davis scored the Celtics' first 8 points of the fourth quarter, the most impressive a hook over Howard with 0:02 on the shot clock for a 67-54 lead 45 seconds in. Nelson kept the Magic in contention with a 3-pointer with 0:03 on the shot clock, then his short jumper cut the deficit to 82-75 with three minutes remaining. But Davis's jumper restored the Celtics' 9-point margin 17 seconds later.
"Once we calmed down and got a flow, both offensively and defensively, we never looked back," said Kevin Garnett, who had 16 points and five rebounds. "With [Davis] and Leon [Powe], it's hit-and-miss. Baby's very versatile; he rolls out and can hit shots. He's going to have the opportunities because Perk is not at full throttle. He gave us some big minutes. He was just very, very aggressive - we promoted that. They had their schemes defensively, and I thought he made them pay.
"When those guys are like that, the starters love it. The bench will be the reason why we win or why we lose."
The Celtics' interior defense clamped down late in the opening quarter. Howard scored 6 points in the first 7:49, but failed to convert another field goal until early in the fourth.
The Celtics took control with a 16-4 run spanning 7:40 of the halves, Rondo's jumper with a second on the shot clock providing a 56-40 lead with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Only Hedo Turkoglu scored from the field for the Magic in the final 10:42 of the opening half, his 3-point shooting keeping Orlando in contention.
But the Celtics failed to get their transition game into gear and the first half turned into a half-court battle, Boston taking a 44-36 lead into intermission.
Among the highlights of the opening half was Rondo controlling a jump ball against Rashard Lewis with 4:10 left, Garnett then converting in the lane following a timeout for a 36-28 edge.
Asked if this was a statement game, Garnett said, "You can call it a test. You gain confidence from games like this. You want to be consistent with what you're doing on the road.
"The road is the hardest thing in this league other than back-to-backs. Just knowing what we were doing, how we were going to attack - if we can somehow bottle that, I think it will give us a chance every night."