The Boston Celtics  have made winning without Kevin Garnett  look easy. LeBron James  and the Cleveland Cavaliers ? Not a problem. Shaq and the Phoenix Suns ? No sweat. Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets ? Blowout. But then there is Dwight Howard  and the Orlando Magic . That’s where the Celtics run into trouble.
The Celtics were 8-2 this season without Garnett (knee) heading into Sunday’s game. Last year they went 9-2 without him. The Cs have hardly missed a beat, except when playing the Magic. In spite of their success, they are 0-2 against the Magic without Garnett.
‘They’re a tough team with or without KG,’ Dwight Howard said after the Magic’s 86-79 win. (RECAP HERE ) ‘So I think the biggest thing is just trying to match their play on both ends and be physical with them like they’re going to be physical with us. Also knowing that KG is one of their big guys on the defensive end, just go at them and just make them pay.’
The Celtics first loss to the Magic without Garnett (96-93 ) came on January 27, 2008. Unable to stop the Magic’s big men, Howard posted 18 points and 16 rebounds while Rashard Lewis scored 15 points. On Sunday, Howard posted 18 points and 15 rebounds with Lewis adding 15 points.
‘[Garnett’s] a good player and he plays hard,’ said Hedo Turkoglu . ‘We just try to take advantage of it. Tonight we just tried to move the ball and make a lot of free throws and make the big men play. Rashard and Dwight took care of the mismatches.’
It isn’t just the absence of Garnett’s 16 points and nearly nine boards a game that helps the Magic. The void of his intensity and energy cannot be denied.
‘He’s pretty much their heart and soul of the team,’ Tony Battie said. ‘You can’t forget about (Kendrick) Perkins  and Big Baby and (Leon) Powe . They do a great job of filling in for him but it’s hard to replace an All-Star in this league. Not only that, but just his presence and leadership on the court, it’s hard to make up for it. Physically those guys can fill the void but his presence is something they probably miss.’
Both teams were missing pieces on Sunday. The Celtics were also without Rajon Rondo  (ankle), Tony Allen  (thumb), and Brian Scalabrine  (concussion). Glen Davis  left the game with a sprained right ankle. The Magic were without Jameer Nelson (shoulder), who also missed last season’s win.
Regardless of their 2-0 record, the Magic still give the Celtics credit.
‘All five guys, whoever steps on the floor, they’re all dangerous,’ said Howard. ‘Paul Pierce , Ray Allen , those guys can light it up. Their bigs are getting better every day. Kendrick did a Kareem shake tonight. It shocked me, but that just shows me that those guys have really been working on their game and they’ve gotten a lot better.’
The Magic’s win brings them within two games of the Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference. The teams will meet again on March 25 in Orlando.