Howard had 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lift the Orlando Magic to a 117-96 victory over the Celtics on Friday night and a 2-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
"Just the whole team stepped up the defensive intensity," said Howard, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. "It starts with me. I have to do that every night if we want to be successful."
Rashard Lewis had 28 points and Hedo Turkoglu scored 24 for Orlando, which played without starting point guard Rafer Alston. He was suspended by the NBA for slapping Eddie House in the back of the head in Game 2.
"You give them their inside game and their outside game, then you don't have a chance," Pierce said.
Game 4 is Sunday in Orlando, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he won't spend time enjoying his team's latest win.
"This is not the time of year to celebrate a win in the playoffs, especially against a team like Boston," Van Gundy said. "It's basically like being at halftime with a one-point lead."
It was the second time this postseason the Magic won with a starter suspended.
Howard lost his cool and threw an elbow at Samuel Dalembert's head to draw a suspension for Game 6 of their first-round series against Philadelphia -- but Orlando still managed to get a blowout win and eliminate the 76ers.
Anthony Johnson had 13 points in place of Alston.
"I can't explain that," Van Gundy said about winning short-handed.
But this time, it was the Magic's big man who made sure a teammate wasn't missed.
Howard had four blocks in the first half, forcing the Celtics into a jump-shooting team much like the Magic did to win Game 1. On the first play of the second quarter, Howard soared so high he had to brace his left hand against the backboard so he wouldn't smack his head, swatting Stephon Marbury's layup attempt into the stands.
It was no different on offense.
Howard sprinted down the middle of the lane to take a pass zipped from the wing by J.J. Redick, gripping the ball with two hands for a thunderous dunk that gave Orlando a 43-31 lead. The Magic would eventually go ahead by 14 points in the period.
"Our defense was awful. They made every shot," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they were the aggressors and we were the retaliators all night."
The Magic took a 20-point lead early in the third quarter before Howard picked up his fourth foul, and the Celtics ended the period on a 12-2 run capped by a breakaway dunk by Rondo.
The Celtics trimmed the deficit to seven in the fourth, and just when it appeared they would complete the comeback, center Kendrick Perkins lost his cool.
Perkins was called for a flagrant one foul with 10:15 remaining for an elbow on Mickael Pietrus. Replays showed Perkins' elbow hit Pietrus in the chin while the two were battling for position away from the ball, the kind of play the NBA has been reviewing -- and sometimes giving out suspensions -- in a postseason that's only becoming more physical.
Rivers reiterated that he doesn't believe in postseason suspensions and that players should serve their penalty in the following regular season. Van Gundy agreed.
"I understand what the NBA is trying to do and trying to prevent, and I respect that," Van Gundy said. "But it is getting to the point now that every time somebody gets hit somebody has to get up there lobbying, trying to get a guy suspended."
- Courtney Lee returned for the Magic with a protective mask after missing the first two games of the series recovering from a fractured sinus. He finished with 11 points in 32 minutes.
- The Magic haven't made it to the conference finals since Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway led them in 1996.