The Magic clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with Indiana's 111-107 loss to New Jersey and their win over Boston, but it was far from a confidence-building victory.
Orlando led 85-68 with 6:41 left, but turned the ball over six times and didn't have a field goal the rest of the game. Orlando's only points were two free throws from Grant Hill and one from Dwight Howard.
"I think we kind of started thinking about the playoffs a little too early," said Howard, who missed three of four free-throw attempts in the last 13 seconds. "We went through a long stretch where we couldn't catch the ball, make a basket or do anything."
The missed opportunities allowed Boston two chances to win or tie the game in the final seconds, but the Celtics couldn't convert. Rookie Rajon Rondo was short on a running one-hander in the lane with five seconds to play and Delonte West had his driving layup attempt blocked by Hedo Turkoglu as the buzzer sounded.
"Obviously it wasn't the ending we would liked to have scripted," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "We got incredibly tentative with the ball and it was like everybody was looking for everybody else to do something. I imagine there is a sense of relief on everybody's part and we can certainly play a lot looser the last two games knowing we don't have to win to play in the postseason."
Boston lost its seventh straight game and has the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but the Celtics were pleased by their performance.
Boston was down 19 points entering the final period and trailed by 17 with under seven minutes remaining before cutting the deficit to 87-86 on Al Jefferson's layup with 57.7 seconds to play.
Jefferson scored eight points and all five Celtics had at least one basket as Boston went on an 18-2 run, capped by Jefferson's layup. A turnover and the missed shots by Rando and West stopped the rally.
"It was unbelievable how we competed and it was fun to watch," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I told them that if the Magic want to go to the playoffs, make them earn it. We kept playing and (the Magic) were just trying to get the clock to tick away. I'm really proud of our guys. They have been an absolutely fantastic group to coach."
Jefferson led Boston with 28 points. West had 19 points and Rondo had 16 for the Celtics.
Trailing 85-68, Boston went on a 12-0 run, capped by Jefferson's layup that cut the deficit to 85-80 with 4:10 left.
Hill stopped the run with a pair of free throws with 3:47 to play, but Rondo hit two free throws and Jefferson made two more layups to make it 87-86 with 57 seconds left.
The Magic led 48-40 at halftime, despite sloppy ball-handling and poor defense that gave Boston easy shots in the paint.
Orlando turned it over 12 times in the first half with Howard and Turkoglu committing three each. Orlando failed to sustain anything offensively until Howard finished a 7-0 run with a thunderous dunk that made it 44-36 with 3:33 left in the second period.
The Magic picked up the tempo at both ends of the floor in the third quarter and broke open the game. Orlando's defense forced seven turnovers that the Magic turned into 10 fastbreak points. Orlando also hit four three-pointers in the quarter, outscoring Boston 30-19 to take a 78-59 lead into the final period.
- The Magic shot 45.5 percent from the field, the first time in six games that Orlando has been under 50 percent.
- The Celtics' last win was a double-overtime victory over Orlando on March 28.
- Howard had his 58th double-double this season.
- Orlando is 28-3 when holding teams under 90 points.
- The Celtics bench was a combined 3-for-18 from the field.
- Hill is shooting 56.4 percent (61 of 108) in his past nine games while averaging 17.2 points.