The Celtics forward returned after missing nine games with a leg injury and scored 19 points, adding eight rebounds and a key steal with 16 seconds left on Monday night to help Boston beat the Magic 109-106.
"These last two weeks have been dark days for me. Being hurt is not one of my favorite things," said Garnett, who injured his right calf against Detroit on Dec. 29. "I've been doing a lot of things to get back here and get strong, and I was glad I was able to come out here and help my team out."
Garnett went around Jameer Nelson and intercepted a pass intended for Jason Richardson, then threw the ball ahead to Ray Allen. Allen was fouled while trying to dribble out the clock; he made both free throws -- giving him 26 points for the game and 13 in the fourth quarter alone.
"We look like a totally different team out there," Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. "You can't replace what Kevin gives to a ballclub. ... He raises everyone's play when he's on the court."
Rajon Rondo had 10 points and 13 assists for Boston, which went 6-3 with Garnett out. The Celtics have won three straight to follow a 5-5 stretch that started on Christmas Day, when they lost to 86-78 to the Magic to snap a 14-game winning streak in the team's only other meeting this season.
Dwight Howard scored 33 points with 13 rebounds and Ryan Anderson scored 16 points, including four 3-pointers, for the Magic. But Boston made 60 percent of its shots -- a season-high for an Orlando opponent.
"We didn't get any stops. There was never a point in the game where we stopped them," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It's got to change. We've got to take a look at it and get a lot better."
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There were 10 lead changes in the third quarter and six more in the fourth as the Magic scored eight straight points to turn a six-point deficit into a 95-93 lead. Allen hit a pair of 3-pointers to answer 3s by Richardson and Turkoglu, but a third 3-pointer by Allen was negated when Garnett was called for a moving pick.
That left it 102-102 with 65 seconds left.
It was tied again with 39 seconds left when Pierce, who had not scored in the fourth quarter, stepped in to draw a foul on Richardson before hitting a jumper; he converted the three-point play to give Boston a 107-104 lead. On the Magic's next possession, Nelson tried to push the ball to Richardson but Garnett, who was stepping around a screen, got his fingertips on the ball and then gathered it in.
"It just came down to the last second, and they made a good play and we turned the ball over," Turkoglu said. "We didn't play our game the way we wanted to from the start."
Orlando ended a two-game losing streak with a victory over Minnesota on Saturday, improving to 10-4 since the trade that brought Turkoglu, Richardson and Gilbert Arenas to the Magic.
The teams have met in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, with Orlando knocking Boston out in 2009 and the Celtics eliminating the Magic last year.
- Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon was sitting courtside, drinking a beer.
- Celtics C Kendrick Perkins, who tore the ligaments in his right knee during the NBA Finals, returned to practice on Sunday. Backup Jermaine O'Neal was in New York to talk to doctors about his left knee injury. A plan will be determined after he meets with the Celtics training staff.
- Several Celtics, including Garnett, attended Sunday's Patriots playoff loss to the New York Jets.
- Howard had 18 points at the half, scoring nine of them on seven free throws in the second quarter alone.
- Anderson hit four 3-pointers in a 3:08 stretch in the first half.
- Van Gundy was still steaming over what he has called a "hefty" fine from 2009 for complaining about the proliferation of Christmas Day games. He was also fined $35,000 this Jan. 1 for complaining about the officiating in Orlando's game against the Knicks. "I actually don't mind meeting with you guys, but $35,000 is a steep price," he said. "I don't care what you make. It's a lot of money."
- Howard's 18 free throw attempts was a season high.