BOSTON — Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu helped dethrone the defending champion Boston Celtics on Sunday night and gave Orlando a chance to bring a crown to the Magic Kingdom.
Howard had 12 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots, and Turkoglu had 25 points with 12 assists in Game 7 on Sunday night, leading Orlando into the Eastern Conference finals, 101-82.
Orlando trailed for just 36 seconds and built a lead it couldn’t squander to earn the right to play LeBron James and the Cavaliers for a spot in the NBA finals. Game 1 is Wednesday in Cleveland.
“We believe. We believe we can go all the way,” Howard said. “It’s going to get harder.”
Ray Allen scored 23 points for Boston, and Paul Pierce had 16 before they were taken out of the game for a courtesy cheer with 2:30 left and the Magic up 99-78. The other member of the new Big Three, Kevin Garnett, awaited them on the bench, where he watched the whole series in street clothes with a right knee strain.
Garnett’s absence derailed the Celtics’ title defense before it got started, forcing them to fight through a seven-overtime, seven-game series against Chicago in the first round and leaving them perpetually playing from behind in the second.
The Magic nearly blew a 28-point lead in Game 1, then did waste a 14-point lead in Game 5 to give the Celtics a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Boston, which won the last of its unprecedented 17 NBA titles last year, had never lost a series after being ahead 3-2.
But Orlando came back from a 10-point deficit on Thursday night to force Game 7.
And there was no panic this time. Just a lot of Magic.
Orlando led by 14 in the second quarter before Boston cut it to 45-42 in the third period. Rondo’s long 2-pointer at the buzzer to end the quarter made it a 66-61 game, but Orlando scored the first eight points of the fourth to open a double-digit lead.
Orlando led 81-64 with 8:04 left when Howard picked up his fifth foul and went to the bench. Boston cut the deficit to 90-78 on Allen’s 3-pointer with 4:12 to play.
But Turkoglu sank a 3-pointer, then Kendrick Perkins was called for a charge and Turkoglu made a fadeaway jumper to extend the lead to 17 points. Turkoglu was 9 for 12 from the field, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter alone.