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Celtics 91, Magic 80

Magic take the bait

Celtics’ defense rattles Orlando

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 7, 2011

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Tricks are always funny when you’re in on them, which is why Rajon Rondo couldn’t hide the subtle grin.

Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu was sprinting down the floor late in the second quarter of yesterday’s game with the Celtics at TD Garden, clueless to the fact that Kevin Garnett was about to make him his best supporting actor.

Trying to get position, Turkoglu shoved Garnett slightly, but noticeably. Garnett went flying, crashing into the cameramen along the baseline.

Rondo rushed to pick Garnett up. He didn’t bother asking if Garnett was all right. Instead he just flicked his hand — a “you’re fine’’ gesture — and then grabbed Garnett from the floor.

Turkoglu, however, was dazed, shaking his head as Garnett hit two free throws that turned the Magic’s 1-point lead into a 1-point deficit.

After falling behind by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, the Celtics were getting back into the game at the free throw line, finding crafty ways to get Orlando to lose its composure.

Earl Clark took every bit of Paul Pierce’s bait less than a minute later, shoving Pierce in order to end a verbal back-and-forth and getting a technical foul for his trouble. Pierce laughed all the way to the free throw line. Then, moments later, when Pierce got tangled with Clark, drawing another foul and earning two more free throws, Pierce and Rondo laughed some more.

The Celtics were the ones who could have lost their composure after seeing Marquis Daniels leave the court on a stretcher early in the second quarter with a bruised spinal cord. But it was the Magic who unraveled, collecting technical fouls, throwing elbows, missing 21 of 24 3-pointers, and absorbing a 91-80 loss.

“We didn’t want to get caught up into all the antics,’’ Pierce said. “There was a lot of talking, a lot of pushing, maybe a cheap shot here, a cheap shot there. I thought that was a good stretch where we made our free throws, got the lead, and really settled in.’’

The Celtics made six free throws in the last 2:04 of the first half, snatching control of the game through guile and gamesmanship.

“I just knew we were in the penalty and we told them to attack,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “That’s the only words we kept using: attack and execute. Getting them into foul trouble helped, obviously.’’

After leading by 3 at halftime, the Celtics scored the first 7 points of the second half, while the Magic were in disarray.

Gilbert Arenas, who went scoreless — “I don’t think I’ve ever not scored,’’ he said — missed a wide-open 3-pointer in front of the Celtics’ bench, one of his seven misses. Ryan Anderson missed one at the end of the third quarter that would have cut it to 6. Turkoglu missed layups. Dwight Howard missed tip-ins.

“We just didn’t play well,’’ said Magic forward Quentin Richardson. “I think we got frustrated for different reasons. We were frustrated with refs. We tried to go and talk to them, when we should have just been concentrating on the game.

“Everybody who plays Boston knows there are going to be some ups and downs with different things. That’s what they’re great at. Despite everything, they’re able to do their little things, do their antics. They play their game. They wear it out, and you got to respect them for that.’’

Howard’s second half was particularly painful, missing 5 of 6 shots after scoring 22 points in the first half. But his frustrations started in the second quarter when he picked up a technical for throwing an elbow at Kendrick Perkins, who was playing aggressive defense.

“If anything, it should have been either a double foul or a double tech,’’ said Howard, who’s had a heated history with Perkins. “I can get penalized for it, and it makes me look like I’m the bad guy. I’m the bully, which is not the case. I’m a physical guy. I’ll get in there and bang with anybody. That’s just how I am. A guy bear-hugs you, I’m not going to just let him bear-hug me. That’s just how I am.’’

After getting into a shootout with the Mavericks Friday and losing on a Jason Kidd 3-pointer, the Celtics’ defense made the Magic offense look lost. Orlando missed nearly as many shots (61) as the Celtics took (63).

“I think any time you lose a game where you broke your principles and defensively you were not right, then the next time you play — if you’re a defensive team — you’re probably going to have a good defensive effort,’’ Rivers said.

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

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