BOSTON (AP) — Put away the brooms. Hold off on those “Beat L.A!” chants. The Boston Celtics still have some work to do before they can play for their second NBA title in three years.
Jameer Nelson made back-to-back 3-pointers in overtime, Dwight Howard had 32 points and 16 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic beat the Celtics 96-92 on Monday night to avoid a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference finals.
Dressing in the same locker room where the Philadelphia Flyers celebrated their comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins in the NHL’s East semifinals, the Magic avoided elimination and sent the series back to Orlando for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
The Bruins also lost Game 4 in overtime.
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.
“Got to go back to Orlando,” Howard said. “Hopefully everybody back there will be ready. Have to keep the faith.”
Paul Pierce had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and Kevin Garnett had 14 points and 12 boards for Boston. Ray Allen hit consecutive 3-pointers in overtime, but Pierce missed two tries in the final minute as the Celtics failed to complete the sweep.
Nelson finished with 23 points and nine assists for the defending Eastern Conference champions, who led by 10 points in the second quarter and were up 85-78 with 2:24 left in the fourth before Boston scored eight of the last nine points in regulation to force overtime at 86-all.
Neither team scored for the first 2:18 of the period before Nelson hit a 3-pointer and then added another 43 seconds later. Allen made a 3-pointer and, after Howard dunked and drew a foul — but missed a free throw — Allen hit another 3 to make it 94-92.
Howard followed up Nelson’s miss with 53 seconds left to make it 96-92, then Garnett sailed a pass over Pierce’s head and into the crowd. Pierce missed a pair of 3-point attempts in the closing seconds.
Orlando’s revival came just in time to avoid a Celtics walkover that had fans in the new Boston Garden chanting “Beat L.A!” early in the second half of Saturday night’s 23-point Boston victory. The Lakers lead the Suns 2-1 in the Western Conference finals, with Game 4 on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Magic’s biggest lead of the series had been a three-point edge in the first quarter of Game 2, but they opened with their highest-scoring quarter of the series on Monday to take a 31-26 lead. They made it 42-32 in the second before Boston cut the deficit to four points at the half.
Orlando led 85-78 on Howard’s three-point play, but Pierce sliced past Howard for a dunk that cut it to five, then Allen hit a 3-pointer to make it 85-83 with 1:41 left. Nelson made one of two free throws, and then Pierce went to the basket and drew a foul, completing the three-point play to make it 86-all with 1:16 left.
But Pierce missed a jumper with a chance to give Boston the lead, Nelson missed for Orlando and Pierce lost his handle on the ball in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime.
NOTES: Sporting goods chain Modell’s sent out an e-mail a few hours before the game advertising Eastern Conference championship gear — if the Celtics won. … Garnett was called for a technical foul with 9:22 left in the third quarter after shoving Howard. … After Rondo left the game with his third foul late in the first half, he went to the locker room with muscle spasms. He returned for the start of the third quarter. He finished with nine points and eight assists. … It was the first playoff overtime for the Celtics since having four overtime games against Chicago in the first round last year.