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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Celtics move closer

Veterans hold off Magic to take 2-0 series lead

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Too slow? Too old?

Try two wins from the NBA Finals.

Indeed, the Boston Celtics look like they saved their best this season for when it mattered most.

"I know," Boston's Paul Pierce said. "It's starting to look that way."

Pierce scored 28 points, Rajon Rondo had 25 and the revived Celtics again avoided a late collapse to take a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 95-92 victory over the Orlando Magic in Game 2 on Tuesday night.

Boston bullied and bruised its way to a 2-0 series lead on the road against a Magic team that had won 14 straight until this series.

After being hampered by injuries for much of the season, often showing their age, the Celtics are now just two wins away from their second finals appearance in three seasons.

"I think we are becoming the team that started the season," Rivers said. "The team that started the season was pretty good."

Maybe even good enough to take down the defending conference champion Magic.

Dwight Howard had 30 points, and Vince Carter and J.J. Redick scored 16 apiece for the Magic, who overcame an 11-point deficit to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter. But they couldn't hold it.

Jameer Nelson's desperation 3-point attempt airballed at the buzzer, sending fans to the exits in silence.

"I won't stop believing," Howard said. "And I won't let my teammates stop believing."

Game 3 is Saturday night in Boston.

"Our fans won't let us relax," Pierce said. "We're going to try and close it out in four games."

The Celtics buckled down just enough to hold in this one.

Ahead 11 points early in the fourth quarter, that almost wasn't enough. The Magic, just as they did in Game 1, found their rhythm late.

They went on a 13-4 run to trim Boston's lead to 85-83 with about six minutes left. Carter's jumper with 4:05 remaining gave Orlando a 90-89 lead with 3:35 remaining, and then the Celtics summoned their championship form again.

Kevin Garnett and Rondo made consecutive jumpers, and after Nelson made a layup, Pierce answered with two free throws that put Boston ahead by three.

Carter missed two free throws with 31.9 seconds left that cost Orlando dearly. It must have felt all too familiar to Magic fans who watched Howard's damaging misses at the stripe in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last year and Nick Anderson's four bricks in Game 1 of the 1995 finals.

Only another footnote for Boston's remarkable history.

Two years removed from their 17th NBA championship, the Celtics, once thought too old to contend for another title, have found their footing again. After ousting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the league's best record, Boston is showing no signs of stopping.

"Just think our mind-set was to be ready for the type of intensity they would bring after losing at home," Pierce said. "We know the Magic are a talented team and we won't take these two wins for granted."



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