ORLANDO, Fla. — The Boston Celtics may have found the formula that will work at playoff time. It certainly worked Saturday night.
The Celtics locked up the No. 7 Eastern Conference playoff seed and a probable first-round matchup with the New York Knicks by pummeling the Orlando Magic 120-88 and putting an end to their recent slump.
Veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce returned to a different starting lineup that looked impressive enough to keep, producing a balance that was hard to ignore.
Courtney Lee led the Celtic with 20 points in a reserve role. Jeff Green had 17 points as a starter. The Celtics (41-39) had seven players with at least 10 points, including starters Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass each with 14 points.
The Celtics shot 59.3 percent from the field and led from start to finish. The Magic never got closer than 19 points in the second half. It was only the third time this season they have used this starting lineup.
“I like our team. I like our team a lot,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We had a good rhythm out there, and a lot of good work. We’re just going to continue preparing for the playoffs.”
Garnett had 14 points and nine rebounds in just 18 minutes. He hit 7 of 8 shots from the field. Pierce had 12 points and eight assists in 26 minutes but made only 4 of 12 from the field. Both have been in and out of the lineup recently with nagging ankle injuries.
“We’re very confident out there now. Everyone is healthy again,” Green said. “And when we are, we can play with anyone.”
The Celtics made quick work of the Magic, whom they beat for the eighth consecutive time in the regular season.
The Magic were led by Tobias Harris, who had 22 points and six rebounds. Magic center Nikola Vucevic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, his 44th double-double this season.
“That’s a playoff team right there. That’s a team that has guys who have won an NBA championship, and we’ve got to take notes from a game like this,” Harris said. “They gave us the first punch, and really just kept going and played as well as they can.”
Reserve Jordan Crawford had 16 points for the Celtics, who finish the regular season with games this week against Indiana and Toronto.
The Magic (20-60) finish with Chicago and Miami.
The outcome Saturday night was never was in doubt, making the contrast clear between a team preparing seriously for a playoff push and a team just waiting to finish the season.
“We are working on something here,” Garnett said. “We all know what’s ahead for us, and we’re working toward that. I like what I’m seeing, but I would like to see more consistency on defense.”
The Celtics scored the first nine points and never were seriously challenged. They forced the Magic into 20 turnovers.
Boston led 57-37 at intermission, riding a hot-shooting, balanced start. The Celtics made 24 of 45 shots from the field (53.3 percent) in the first two quarters with five players scoring at least eight points.
The Magic struggled defensively throughout the game, offering little resistance on repeated drives through the lane.
Pierce and Garnett returned to the lineup after sitting out Friday’s loss in Miami.
“Tonight was a step forward. Definitely,” Pierce said. “Everyone understands their role now, and that’s a good thing. We’re doing some of the things to prepare us for the playoffs.”
The Magic started a lineup that included two rookies and two second-year players. The inexperience was obvious on defense.
NOTES: Pierce had missed two of the previous four games with an ankle injury, and Garnett had missed the last two with his own ankle problems. … Rivers looked pained when he started talking about the injury to Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who tore his Achilles’ tendon on Friday night and is expected to need six to nine months before he can play again. “My players are my favorites, but if I had another, it would be Kobe. I just love his heart and toughness. He’s as tough a competitor as there is. We’re all going to miss him,” Rivers said. … The Magic, with the second-worst record in the league, have been through quite a transformation this season. From the original starting lineup on opening night, only Vucevic is still playing. Arron Afflalo (hamstring), Glen Davis (fractured left foot), Hedo Turkoglu (healthy but benched) and Jameer Nelson (sprained right ankle) are unlikely to see the court in the final two games. … Rivers started his coaching career in Orlando with the Magic (1999-2000) and won a coach of the year award. His family still lives in central Florida.