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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pierce takes charge as Celts finish Magic

BOSTON (AP) One title has never been enough.

News photo
The main man: Boston's Paul Pierce drives against Orlando's Dwight Howard in Game 6 on Friday night. The Celtics beat the Magic 96-84 to take the series 4-2. AP PHOTO

Not for the Boston Celtics.

The league's most-decorated franchise earned a chance to hang an unprecedented 18th championship banner from the rafters, beating Orlando 96-84 on Friday 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," Celtics 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 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 Kevin 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 on Saturday 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.

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 and four assists 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, "(was) 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 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.



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