BOSTON (AP) – Dwight Howard returned from his one-game suspension to get 16 points and 22 rebounds Monday night and help the Orlando Magic hold off the late-charging Boston Celtics 95-90 in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Magic opened a 28-point lead early in the second half before Boston cut the deficit to 91-87 in the final 2 minutes. The Celtics had several chances to come within one possession – the best Ray Allen’s 3-pointer that rimmed out with 43 seconds left.

Paul Pierce made a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left to make it a three-point game, but J.J. Redick went 4-for-4 from the line in the last 14 seconds to ice it.

“We got complacent as a team, stopped doing what we did to get the lead and against a good Celtics team you can’t do that,” Howard said. “I’m not happy with the way we ended the game.”

Pierce scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and Rajon Rondo had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Boston.

Kendrick Perkins had 16 rebounds for Boston, but Rondo and Allen both went 2 of 12 from the field. The Magic had a cold spell of their own in the fourth quarter, going just 5 of 20 from the field to lose most of a once-dominating lead that had the Boston fans booing their team off the court at halftime.

Boston had just one day off since eliminating the Chicago Bulls in a best-of-seven series – 7 3/4, actually – one many consider the best first-round playoff series in NBA history. The teams played a record four overtime games and seven overtimes periods in all – nearly three extra quarters of basketball.

Orlando finished off Philadelphia in six games on Thursday night, and Howard has been resting up even longer: He was suspended for the series finale for elbowing Sixers center Samuel Dalembert.

“It felt like I was out 10 games,” Howard said. “I was a little rusty. We’ll be ready for Game 2.”

Celtics backup point guard Stephon Marbury, who was little help in the Bulls series, made consecutive rainbow scoop shots and added two more baskets in a span of just over 2 minutes to help Boston erase an early five-point deficit and take a 30-28 lead with 8:43 left in the first half.

But the Magic scored 26 of the final 32 points in the first half and then scored 11 of the first 12 in the third quarter to open a 65-37 lead.

The Celtics used a 15-4 run to get the lead under 20 points and came as close as 74-60 near the end of the third quarter. Mickael Pietrus hit a 3-pointer to make it 81-64, then Boston scored seven straight points, getting a jumper from Pierce, a 3-pointer off a jump ball from Eddie House and then Rondo’s steal and dunk to make it a 10-point game.

It was the first time the crowd got back into it since the opening quarter.

Notes: The teams split the season series 2-2, but Orlando won both times that Kevin Garnett was hurt. Howard averaged 16.8 points and 15.5 rebounds in the four games. … Magic G Courtney Lee is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series while recovering from surgery to repair a fractured sinus. … The Celtics did not go to the free throw line in the first half, but Rondo shot 12 free throws in the third quarter alone. … Celtics coach Doc Rivers gave his team off Sunday, meaning their only practice before the start of the series was Monday’s shootaround. “If I was going to have a choice between the legs and brains, I’ll take the legs any time,” he said.

AP-ES-05-04-09 2254EDT

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