Celtics clinch Eastern crown Artest shows up late for Lakers' practice
By JIMMY GOLEN
BOSTON — One title has never been enough.
Not for the Boston Celtics.
The league's most-decorated franchise avoided the biggest playoff collapse in NBA history and earned a chance to hang an unprecedented 18th championship banner from the rafters, beating Orlando, 96-84, last night to eliminate the Magic in six games and advance to the NBA finals for the second time in three years.
It would be the second title for the new "Big Three," which won it all in 2008 but failed to repeat last year when the Magic eliminated them in the second round.
"Obviously, one is special," coach Doc Rivers said. "But the other groups have a couple, and we would love to join that club. No one can ever take away that first one, but we want to join the other club, too."
Paul Pierce had 31 points and 13 rebounds, and little-used backup Nate Robinson gave the Celtics a boost with 13 second-quarter points to squelch Orlando's attempt to be the first team in NBA history — but the second in Boston this month — to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.
Ray Allen scored 20 points, Rajon Rondo had 14 points and six assists and Kevin Garnett, who missed the playoffs last year with a knee injury, added 10 points for Boston.
"This starting five has never lost a series, ever," Rivers said, alluding to the injury that kept Garnett out for the postseason last year and kept the new Big Three from defending its '08 title. "We believed that coming into the season, and we just kept believing."
The finals will begin Thursday in either Los Angeles or Phoenix.
The Lakers lead the Western Conference finals 3-2, and a victory over the Suns in Game 6 today would set up the cross-coast rivals for a rematch of the 2008 finals — and 10 other championship series from 1959-87.
The Boston fans have been chanting "Beat L.A.!" since Game 3, when the Celtics cruised to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. Orlando won the next two games.
The Boston Bruins opened a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia in the NHL's Eastern Conference semifinals before the Flyers rallied to win — in the very same building.
The Magic, who dressed in the same locker room where the Flyers celebrated their comeback, couldn't match it — or even force the series back to Orlando for a Game 7.
Dwight Howard had 28 points and 12 rebounds as the defending East champions failed to get back to the finals. Vince Carter scored 17 points, and Jameer Nelson finished with 11 points as he was outplayed by Rondo, Boston's starting point guard, and Robinson, his backup.
Reporters and fans snickered when Rivers said last month that Robinson, who had struggled to get playing time and contributed little since coming to Boston at the trade deadline and had never appeared in the postseason before, "He's going to win us a playoff game."
But Robinson came off the bench at the start of the second quarter, when Boston led 30-19, and hit a pair of 3-pointers 90 seconds apart to help stretch the lead to 15 points.
"You know, he really won this game for us because the game was in the mix to go either direction and he really gave us a spark," Pierce said of Robinson. That's really growing up, really growing into a man tonight."
Robinson's two free throws midway through the second quater gave Boston a 21-point lead — its biggest of the first half.
"Nate Robinson was huge in the first half," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "That was a huge, huge lift for them."
Orlando cut it to 13 points at halftime, but the Celtics scored 11 of the first 13 points in the third quarter and never led by fewer than 14 in the fourth until the final minute.
By that point, the Celtics were already dancing on the sidelines, wearing Eastern Conference championship hats and T-shirts.
When it was over, Hall of Famer Dave Cowens presented owner Wyc Grousbeck with the conference trophy and told the team, "Bring home No. 18, now."
ORLANDO 19 23 19 23—84
BOSTON 30 25 27 14—96
ORLANDO–Barnes 0-0 1-2 1, Lewis 3-11 1-2 7, Howard 11-17 6-12 28, Nelson 5-14 0-0 11, Carter 6-15 4-5 17, Redick 2-7 2-2 7, Pietrus 2-3 1-2 7, J.Williams 2-4 0-0 5, Gortat 0-0 1-2 1, Bass 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-72 16-27 84.
BOSTON–Pierce 9-15 9-10 31, Garnett 5-10 0-0 10, Perkins 1-4 0-0 2, Rondo 5-13 3-5 14, R.Allen 6-13 5-6 20, Davis 2-5 2-2 6, Wallace 0-5 0-0 0, T.Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 4-10 3-4 13. Totals 32-75 22-27 96.
3-Point Goals—Orlando 6-22 (Pietrus 2-3, J.Williams 1-2, Carter 1-4, Redick 1-4, Nelson 1-5, Lewis 0-4), Boston 10-22 (Pierce 4-5, R.Allen 3-7, Robinson 2-6, Rondo 1-3, Wallace 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Orlando 44 (Howard 12), Boston 56 (Pierce 13). Assists—Orlando 14 (Nelson 4), Boston 19 (Rondo 6). Total Fouls—Orlando 21, Boston 25. Technicals—Orlando defensive three second 2. Flagrant Fouls—Nelson. A—18,624 (18,624).