BOSTON — The NBA's most-decorated team avoided the biggest playoff collapse in league history and earned a chance to hang an unprecedented 18th championship banner from the rafters.
Paul Pierce had 31 points and 13 rebounds, and little-used backup Nate Robinson gave the Celtics a boost with 13 second-quarter points as Boston beat Orlando 96-84 Friday night, earning a chance to play for a second NBA title in three years.
"Obviously, one is special," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, acknowledging that it's not enough to rank among the great teams in franchise history. "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."
The finals begin Thursday in Los Angeles or Phoenix.
The Lakers lead the West final 3-2, and a win tonight in Game 6 can set up the rivals for a rematch of the 2008 Finals.
The Celtics had cruised to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven East final, but Orlando won the next two games and threatened to become the first team in the NBA to come back from a 3-0 deficit.
But the Magic couldn't force the series back to Orlando for Game 7.
"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, when the Magic beat them in the playoffs and kept them from defending their '08 title. "We believed that coming into the season, and we just kept believing."
Dwight Howard had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the defending East champions. Vince Carter scored 17, and Jameer Nelson finished with 11 points and four assists but was outplayed by Boston's starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, and Robinson, his backup.
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.
"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 at halftime, but the Celtics scored 11 of the first 13 in the third quarter and never led by fewer than 14 in the fourth until the final minute.
The Celtics followed a first-round win over the Heat by eliminating the top-seeded Cavaliers then the Magic.
"They beat two very good teams and made us look like we weren't very good teams," Van Gundy said. "When you go through two series like that, I think you have to be fair and say a lot has to do with them."
|Celtics win series 4-2|
|Celtics win series 4-2|
ORLANDO (84): 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 (96): 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).
Confident Nash says Suns will win Game 6
PHOENIX — Steve Nash says he's no "Joe Namath who walked in in his fur coat," but he is not backing away from his postgame promise that the Suns will beat the Lakers in Game 6 of the West final tonight.
"I just said we're going home and win Game 6 and come back in Game 7," Nash said Friday. "Take it how you want to take it."
The Suns didn't seem devastated by Thursday's 103-101 loss in Los Angeles. The close call seemed to bolster their belief they can win this series, even though the Lakers are up 3-2.
And the home team has won every game so far in this series.
Nash's assurance might not have packed the flamboyance of Namath's famous guarantee that his huge underdog New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, but it was enough to rile Game 5 hero Ron Artest.
"That's like no respect for us. There's no respect," he said. "That's how it's been for a long time this season."
In Game 5, the Suns rallied from 18 down in the second half to make it 101-101 with 3.5 seconds to play. The Lakers pulled it out when Kobe Bryant threw up an air ball and Artest hustled to retrieve it then banked in a shot at the buzzer.
No punishment for Wade: The league says Dwyane Wade did not break any tampering rules by saying he wants to talk with other marquee free agents before deciding whether to stay with the Heat. Players cannot tamper with other players, but it is impossible to regulate.
Ex-star bankrupt: Former All-Star Antoine Walker filed for bankruptcy last week in Miami, and he reported having $4.3 million in assets and $12.7 million in liabilities. Walker was a three-time All-Star with the Celtics and won a title with the Heat in 2006.