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Garnett took his best shots on defense

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — It was tough enough that his shot wasn’t falling. But every so often, because of the foul trouble the Celtics got themselves into during their 95-92 Game 2 win over the Magic, Kevin Garnett found himself matched up against Dwight Howard.

“That’s not a matchup we were hoping for, I can tell you that,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Garnett found as many ways as he could to rattle the Magic’s giant center, and even though Howard finished with a game-high 30 points, Garnett’s defense was valuable on a night his offense was lacking.

The Magic had been 5-0 when Howard scored 30 points this season. After scoring 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting in Game 1, Howard got 32 touches last night.

Garnett shot 5 of 16 from the floor for 10 points and had nine rebounds. He hit a handful of big shots, including a pair of jumpers and a dunk in the third quarter to fuel a 9-1 Celtics’ burst.

But his pinch defense on Howard was key.

“Overall he did a great job with his length,’’ Rivers said. “Kevin knows he’s not going to win a muscle contest with Dwight Howard, but he does have length, and he stretched him out and he made him change some shots.’’

“We had a ton of foul trouble today. That’s what I’m happy about, obviously winning the game, but winning the game with different guys in different positions, and everybody pitching in.’’

“Dwight had 30 points and still had trouble,’’ said Marcin Gortat. “All those guys — [Kendrick] Perkins, KG, Rasheed [Wallace] — do a great job.’’

Garnett’s primary assignment has been to keep Rashard Lewis under wraps. After scoring just 6 points in Game 1, Lewis scored 5 last night. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy put the responsibility on himself to get Lewis better looks.

“They’re staying on him,’’ Van Gundy said. “I have to find a way to get him involved. It’s not like Garnett has been going off at the other end.’’

Brotherly love
There’s a pair of Flyers fans playing in this series. Wallace broke his hat out before Philadelphia’s Game 7 victory over the Bruins. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson wore his at yesterday’s shootaround. The two are Pennsylvania products. Nelson grew up in Chester watching Wallace play at Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia.

“I watched him growing up in high school and going to college,’’ Nelson said. “He was one of the greatest players probably to play Philadelphia basketball.’’

Wallace has shaken off his struggles in the regular season and given the Celtics veteran experience off the bench in these playoffs, particularly unnerving Howard in Game 1.

“He adds toughness,’’ Nelson said. “He’s a tough guy mentally and physically. He’s been around the league a long time, so he knows what to do against guys in terms of causing problems with him and their weaknesses.’’

Van Gundy said the Celtics essentially added two 7-footers to the team that lost in the second round last year, getting a healthy Garnett back and adding Wallace. The Celtics were shorthanded in the front court, relying mostly on Perkins and Glen Davis to deal with Howard. Now they have up to four players that can defend Howard one-on-one if necessary.

“Obviously he’s been a great addition for them,’’ Van Gundy said. “I think the biggest thing that’s happened — it was a strength of their championship year and it’s their strength now — is their size. They’re huge. It’s a very big team. Much like the Lakers.

“Their size creates a lot problems. You just don’t get a lot of easy looks around the basket. They didn’t have that last year.’’

Young at heart
Seeing Ray Allen sprinting around screens, making defenders chase him every minute he’s on the floor, shocks Vince Carter enough. But after watching the 34-year-old Allen get up for a dunk in Game 1, Carter had to say something.

“I said, ‘You’re dunking like a young guy,’ ’’ Carter said. “I think he jumps higher now than he did back then . . . all right maybe not that high.’’

Allen’s averaging 18 points in these playoffs before last night, shooting 47 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range, both highs in his three postseasons with the Celtics. He had just 4 points last night.

“I looked at how hard he runs around off screens, and he might not be the 25-year-old Ray Allen, but I don’t see much difference between the 30- or 31-year-old Ray Allen,’’ Van Gundy said. “This might be the best he’s playing in the playoffs since he’s been in Boston. He’s been outstanding. Just a great player who’s always taking great care of himself. He’s in great shape.’’

Weary of the rest
Game 3 of this series isn’t until Saturday, and Rivers isn’t looking forward to the long layoff. The Celtics have benefited from the rest during the postseason, buying time for Perkins to rest his sore knees coming into the series and also getting a chance to rest Garnett’s foot strain. “Perk’s knees are still really bad, bothering him,’’ Rivers said. “But I don’t like the long break. I don’t mind the two days, but this break and the one we had last week, that’s long. There’s only so much they want to hear from you, so practices get a little sketchy to say the least.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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