BOSTON -- The Orlando Magic needed less than 48 hours to go from a terrible third quarter to a terrific one.
"In a matter of three days, I've seen the worst quarter we've had since I've been here in three years and the best now in three years," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said.
On Friday night, the Magic blew a 21-point lead and lost to the Washington Wizards 92-91 after being outscored 39-17 in the third quarter. On Sunday, they outscored the Celtics 36-11 in that period.
The Magic (34-17) moved into second place in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of the Celtics (32-17).
"We were upset about the way we played in the first half," said Howard, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds. After that, "we got stops and then we came down and hit some shots. And after that, we just kept it rolling."
Carter had a game-high 20 points and scored nine during a 19-0 rally that began after Rajon Rondo's 3-pointer gave the Celtics a 60-51 lead with 7:17 left in the third quarter -- Boston's fourth and final field goal of the period. That surge wiped out a 51-40 halftime deficit and led to a 76-62 margin after the third quarter. The Magic stayed in front by at least five points the rest of the way as the Celtics did too much freelancing.
"We were getting what we deserved," Boston coach Doc Rivers said, "I love our team on paper, but we tend to be front-runners. When we get a good lead we relax and teams take advantage of it and then you're caught and it's tough to turn it back on."
Rondo scored 17 points and Ray Allen added 14 for the Celtics.
But the Magic put together an outstanding 12 minutes of offense and defense in the decisive quarter. The Celtics had seven turnovers and only four field goals in the period, while the Magic had 12 baskets and two turnovers.
"One of the guys said, 'We're better than Orlando,' and I said, 'No, you're not,'" Rivers said. "They knocked you out of the playoffs last year. Orlando's better than us right now. Atlanta's better than us right now. L.A. (Lakers are) better than us right now."
The Celtics did make a late run with seven straight points that cut the lead to 94-89. But Rashard Lewis just beat the 24-second buzzer with a short driving shot that made it 96-89 with 18 seconds to go.
"We did a good job just sticking with the game plan no matter what the score was," Jameer Nelson said.
The Celtics lost despite getting two important players back. Paul Pierce, their leading scorer, returned after missing two games with a strain on the top of his left foot and scored 13 points. Key substitute Marquis Daniels sat out the previous 29 games following surgery for a torn ligament in his left thumb and finished with eight points.
"The foot was a little sore, but I don't think it affected too much of my movement," Pierce said.
Carter started the 19-0 spurt with a 3-pointer. Howard then picked up his fourth foul with 5:58 left in the quarter but remained in the game, and Carter followed with a three-point play. Then the Magic, the most prolific 3-point shooting team in the NBA, made three straight -- by Lewis, Carter and Lewis again -- for a 66-60 lead. Howard then dunked an alley-oop pass from Matt Barnes and Nelson followed with a driving layup.
Tony Allen finally scored for the Celtics on two free throws, cutting Orlando's lead to 70-62 with 1:33 left in the third. But the Magic got the final six points of the quarter on two free throws by Lewis and a layup and two free throws by Jason Williams -- giving them 25 of the last 27 points in the period.
Kevin Garnett, scoreless in the first half, scored Boston's first three baskets in the third quarter to maintain the 11-point lead at 57-46. But Orlando went on a 14-3 run, tying the game at 60 on a 3-pointer by Lewis with 4:36 left in the period. Carter then put the Magic ahead to stay
"Mirror image of what happened to us the other night at home -- big lead at the half, get absolutely annihilated in the third quarter," Van Gundy said. "People want to know how you can let that happen, now you've got someone else you can ask besides us."
- Garnett had nine rebounds, moving into 20th place all-time with 11,960. He passed Dennis Rodman, who had 11,954.
- Boston is 1-7 combined against Orlando and Atlanta, two of the top four teams in the East.
- Orlando improved to 15-12 on the road while Boston fell to 15-9 at home.