ORLANDO, December 26 – Rajon Rondo scored 17 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and passed out eight assists while Boston's defense kept Orlando to a season-low for points in an 86-77 NBA victory Thursday.But a late-game stumble by Kevin Garnett threatened to steal the joy from a Christmas triumph by inflicting yet another injury upon the Celtics.
A Boston club playing without Paul Pierce due to a right knee injury also lost Garnett late in the game when he leaped to block a Vince Carter shot, fell awkwardly to the court, then rose and hobbling to the bench holding his back.
Garnett, who missed his first game of the season on Tuesday with a thigh bruise, had 10 points and seven rebounds and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said all that was sore with Garnett was a bruise on his head.
Ray Allen scored 18 points and Tony Allen, replacing Pierce in Boston’s lineup, added 16 as the Celtics improved to 23-5 with their 14th triumph in 15 games.
"This was definitely a benchmark game for us because we have been talking about this game for a long time," Ray Allen said. "We did what we had to do and took care of the game."
Vince Carter scored a game-high 27 points in a losing cause while Rashard Lewis added 19 points and Frenchman Mickael Pietrus added nine for the Magic, who fell to 22-8, still one game ahead of Atlanta atop the Southeast division.
Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard, who pulled down 20 rebounds, was kept to only five points.
"You’ve got to play him physical. You watch other teams around the league, they pretty much let him set up shop," Boston center Kendrick Perkins said. "You’ve just got to go in and be prepared to go to war. You’ve got to fight him first, hit him first.
"He likes to be physical but he doesn’t like anyone to be physical with him."
Orlando, which had won seven of the past 10 meetings with Boston, trimmed the deficit to 78-75 before Ray Allen’s jumper and two free throws pushed the Celtics out of range for good.
"It wasn’t the prettiest ball," Rivers said. "It was ugly ball. I don’t necessarily think it was bad basketball, but two teams playing extremely hard and great defense."
The matchup between the two top clubs in the Eastern Conference was among five Christmas Day games on the NBA schedule, something that irked Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.
"I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game," Van Gundy said. "If I had my way, we’d take a five-day break at Christmas.
"Obviously basketball is very important to me, but there are some days of the year where it’s got to take a back seat to something."