ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The emotions of knocking LeBron James out of the playoffs still fresh, the Boston Celtics weren't about to have a letdown.
Far from it, actually.
Making their return to the Eastern Conference finals after winning the NBA title two years ago, the Celtics showed that smothering defense of old in a 92-88 victory over the Orlando Magic in Game 1 on Sunday.
Ray Allen scored 25 points and Paul Pierce had 22 to help Boston take a 20-point lead and hold on late.
All that a little more than 60 hours after ousting the MVP and a Cleveland Cavaliers team with the league's best record.
The quick turnaround apparently did them some good.
"There's a lot to be said for repetition," Allen said. "It's tough anytime you have to sit around, especially at this time of year when you know you have a pretty good formula for how you have been playing basketball and everybody has a great rhythm.
"So we definitely were on the luckier side of the equation knowing we had just come off (three) days ago."
Not so much for the Magic
Six days since their second sweep of the playoffs, they came out flat and fell behind early. Vince Carter had 23 points and Jameer Nelson finished with 20 for Orlando, which cut the lead to two in the final seconds but ran out of time.
Dwight Howard was limited to 13 points and 12 rebounds, nowhere near the dominant force the Magic need to win a title. That 14-game winning streak?
"I don't think it was rusty. Just anxious," Howard said. "We dug ourselves a hole, and it was tough to get back from."
Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins teamed together to swarm Howard, never allowing him to get free. The Celtics 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.
"Dwight is a load. It is going to take an effort from everybody, not only the bigs, but the smalls too," Garnett said. "Be firm, use our fouls, contest shots and hang our hat on defense."
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Orlando, and Boston is looking to deliver another big blow.
The revived Celtics might be a little slower than their paralyzing defense that led them to their last title. But, healthy again, maybe not as much as some thought.
The Celtics built a 15-point lead in the second quarter but watched it fizzle with Howard on the bench. Backup Marcin Gortat had two layups and a dunk to help the Magic end the half with Boston ahead 41-32.
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.
After Pierce made two free throws, Carter was fouled driving to the hoop. He made the first, then missed the second intentionally as Nelson swooped in for the tip to make it 90-88. But Allen followed with two free throws with 6.1 seconds left to seal the Celtics' victory.
"Quite honestly, so far in these playoffs with the days off and the rest and the games in between where you can prepare, it's allowed us to prepare defensively," Rivers said. "We had it in us. We did it the first 28 games of the year. We were terrific out of the gates defensively."
Showing no signs of age, the Celtics outhustled and outmuscled the Magic at every step defensively. They pushed and pulled their way around the paint, slowing Howard for most of the game. That bruising Boston basketball frustrated the Magic and Howard.
Howard and Rasheed Wallace got tangled in the third — one of many times — and were whistled for double technicals after swinging their arms.
The Magic lost for the first time since April 2 at San Antonio.
"Our guys aren't going to like fall apart," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Hell, they got down 20 in this game and they didn't collapse. That's not our team. This is all about winning. Our team doesn't have to prove they can bounce back from adversity and all of that. They've done all that."
The Celtics stifled the Magic as well as anyone, holding them to 32 points in the opening half.
The Celtics seem as rejuvenated as ever, ready to give the Magic — who swept Atlanta and Charlotte in the first two rounds — their toughest test yet.
"I think it was a wake-up call that we really needed," Carter said. "Now it's what are we going to do about it? How do we respond?"
NOTES: The Magic and Celtics will both practice Monday. ... The only time the Magic had fewer points at the half this season came against Boston on Christmas, when Orlando was held to 27. ... Utah Jazz F Carlos Boozer and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris were among those in attendance.