BOSTON -- Don't forget about the Orlando Magic in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Dwight Howard scored 18 with 15 rebounds, making a pair of free throws with 13.9 seconds left to ice it after Boston cut a 22-point deficit to three, and the Magic held on to beat the Celtics 86-79 on Sunday. With the win, Orlando moved two games behind Boston and three behind first-place Cleveland in the East.
"It was big for [us] to see where we are for the playoffs," said Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, who scored 16. "It's not just a team that we want to catch. It's a team that we want to beat."
Rashard Lewis scored 15 and Rafer Alston had 10 points and eight assists for Orlando, which won its fourth straight. One game after turning back Cleveland to grab the tiebreaker edge in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics offered a feeble start on their home court against third-place Orlando.
The Magic led by seven points after one and 18 after two as Boston posted its lowest-scoring first quarter and half of the season. The Celtics trailed by 22 points in the third quarter before waking up: they have just six losses at home this season, including three straight Sunday afternoon games over the past month.
"We pick and choose a little bit right now on our focus, and we can't do that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That's part of the championship residue. Last year, every game we thought of as a big game."
Ray Allen had 17 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, scoring nine straight to make it 82-79 with 1:22 to play. But he hit the back of the rim on a 3-point attempt from the left side that would have tied it with 41 seconds to play.
"I knew when I got the ball I had to try and make plays," said Allen, who also tied a season-high with nine rebounds. "I knew I had to get something going."
Lewis hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game, then Eddie House missed his 3-point try and Howard clinched it with his foul shots.
"It's very big," Howard said, noting that Boston had won the first two matchups this season. "We just tried to weather the storm, and we got a good win."
Already missing Kevin Garnett, who missed his eighth straight game with a strained muscle in his right knee, the Celtics also sat out point guard Rajon Rondo to allow him to rest the right ankle he sprained on Friday night. Garnett's backup, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, left Sunday's game with 6:25 left in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain and did not return.
Stephon Marbury, who made his first start since joining the Celtics on Feb. 27, started and scored four points in 20:30.
Orlando led 65-43 points with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter and 68-47 with 2:14 left before Leon Powe dunked to start a 9-1 run to end the quarter; Allen made it 11 of 12 points with a pair of free throws to start the fourth that cut the deficit to 69-58.
Paul Pierce made two free throws with 9:33 left in the game to give him 18,246 in his career and pass Hall of Famer Robert Parish for third on the Celtics' career list. Larry Bird is next, with 21,791.
Allen's 3-pointer cut it to seven points with 3:21 left, and he drove to the basket to make it 82-77 with 2:17 to play. He was fouled on a drive to the basket, and his two free throws cut Orlando's lead to three points.
But after Courtney Lee missed a foul-line jumper and Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Allen got open on the left side and missed his 3-point try. Lewis' free throws ended a 3 1/2-minute scoreless streak for Orlando.
The Celtics fell to 5-3 since Garnett went out with a strained muscle in his right knee.
Boston scored 15 points in the first quarter and 33 in the first half. ... Boston holds the tiebreaker edge with the Magic, winning two of their three games this season, and leads the Cavs 2-1 head-to-head with an April 12 matchup in Cleveland left to play.
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