ORLANDO, Fla. — The hair is a little grayer. The ankles and knees no longer so sturdy. Even with a roster full of aging superstars, the Boston Celtics are still standing tall.
Too old to chase a title? Not these days.
Ray Allen scored 25 points, Paul Pierce had 22 and the Celtics used smothering defense to beat the Orlando Magic 92-88 on Sunday in the Eastern Conference finals opener.
Hampered by injuries, the Celtics literally limped their way through parts of the regular season. All that seems a distant memory now.
“I honestly say we lost ourselves,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I think we’ve found ourselves again.”Rasheed Wallace added 13 points as the Celtics built a 20-point lead, then held on late to snap Orlando’s 14-game winning streak. They held the Magic to 41 percent shooting — 22 percent from 3-point range — in displaying that rough and tough defense that was once their staple.
“There were stretches in the season, we know each other so well now, where we were becoming less patient with each other,” Allen said. “We were getting on each other a little too much. We can take it, but we respected each other.
“When we started the playoffs, we said teams are going to hit us, they’re going to attack us. But when somebody scores on us, which they will, we go get the ball out and come back.”
Vince Carter had 23 points and Jameer Nelson finished with 20 for Orlando, which cut the lead to two in the final seconds but simply ran out of time, looking rusty after a six-day layoff. Dwight Howard was limited to 13 points and 12 rebounds, nowhere near the dominant force the Magic need to win a title.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Orlando.
“I don’t think it was rusty. Just anxious,” Howard said. “We dug ourselves a hole, and it was tough to get back from.”
Two years removed from an NBA title, the revived Celtics might be a little slower than their paralyzing defense of old. But, healthy again, maybe not as much as some once thought.
Nelson had two quick 3-pointers and another jumper to start the third, moving the Magic within three points. Then it all unraveled.
The Celtics went on a 22-5 run later in the quarter to go ahead 65-45, and a crowd littered with blue and white T-shirts — deafening at times with noise clickers and claps — was silenced. But the Magic rallied late to cut the lead to three with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth on a dunk by Howard.
The Magic’s run simply ran out of time, even if the Celtics seem to be turning back the clock.
The Magic lost for the first time since April 2 at San Antonio.