A team beats a one-man show.
That lesson was hammered home when the Celtics defeated LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the previous round.
And in case anyone forgot, they were reminded again in Game Six between Boston and Orlando, as the Celtics defeated the Magic 96-84. The win avenges Boston’s loss to the Magic in last year’s playoffs, and advances the Celtics to the NBA Finals for the 21st time in franchise history and second time in three years.
Dwight Howard was great for the Magic with 28 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 64 percent from the floor (11-17). His teammates, however, shot just 36 percent (20-55). Other than a brief spurt from Vince Carter near the end of the first half, no one else on the Magic offered Howard much assistance.
For the Celtics, it was a different player stepping up at various times on the offensive end combined with a team effort on the defensive end that propelled them to the victory.
Boston came out strong and led 30-19 after one quarter. Rajon Rondo was quiet in the Game Four and Five losses, being outplayed by Magic point guard Jameer Nelson in both games. From the start, Rondo made it obvious that would not happen again. He pushed the tempo the entire quarter and had 12 points in the first 12 minutes.
But, Boston fans did not care about Rondo’s 12 points or the 11-point lead after one quarter. They were all worried about Rondo, who took a hard fall on a drive to the hoop in the final minutes of the quarter.
Boston had not had a back-up point guard make any contribution all playoffs. The Celtics were no doubt in trouble if Rondo was significantly hampered from the fall, or even worse if he could not return at all.
To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast.”
We all heard for weeks that Doc Rivers believed Nate Robinson would win a game for the Celtics at some point. No one believed him. But Rivers turned out to be dead on and Game Six was Robinson’s chance.
He took full advantage. After not even playing in eight of Boston’s previous 16 playoff games, he was the primary reason Boston pushed the lead to as many as 21 points.
Robinson had 13 of Boston’s 25 second quarter points. He started things off with a pair of three pointers, then hit his free throws, and knocked down a couple of jumpers. Robinson even attempted to attack the rim over Howard, getting fouled in the attempt.
Robinson joins fellow Celtic bench players Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, and Glen Davis as having his moment in the playoffs where his play was crucial to a Celtics victory.
The Magic, however, crawled back in to the game before the end of the half and trailed just 55-42 at the break. Considering how things were going at one point, Orlando had to be very happy to be down just 13.
In the third quarter though, the Celtics quickly put out any hopes the Magic may have had with an 11-2 run to start the quarter. Kevin Garnett hit a jump shot. Then, after a Dwight Howard hoop, Ray Allen hit back-to-back three pointers and Paul Pierce would hit a third straight three for the Celtics.
The Big Three in fact scored all of Boston’s points in the third quarter – Pierce had 11, Allen 10, and Garnett six.
Boston led 82-61 entering the fourth quarter and Pierce then took the Celtics home. He opened the quarter with a three pointer. Orlando tried to stay in the game with a quick 7-0 run. Pierce though, would have none of that, hitting yet another three.
And after J.J. Redick hit a three for Orlando, to cut Boston’s lead to 14, Pierce responded with another jumper.
The Celtics’ captain finished with 31 points, 19 coming in the second half, with 13 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. It was Pierce’s second 30-point game of the series and third of the playoffs, after reaching 30 points just once in the regular season. Pierce is also just the fourth player in the last 30 years to have at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in the clinching game of a conference finals (Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar are the other three).
Boston put five players in double figures (Pierce, Allen, Garnett, Robinson, Rondo). It was the point guard play that sparked Boston in the first half, with Rondo and Robinson combining for 25 points. In the second half, Pierce and Allen stepped up, scoring 31 of the team’s 41 points after the break.
For the Celtics, they become just the sixth team in NBA history to reach the finals when seeded four or lower. Of the previous five teams to do so, only the 1995 Houston Rockets would win the championship.
After losing two games in a row, Boston fans everywhere collectively exhaled with the win, as the fear set in everywhere that the Celtics would repeat what just happened to the Bruins by blowing a 3-0 lead.
But as was perfectly written on twitter by @CelticsBlog, “I know the Boston Bruins, and you Celtics are no Boston Bruins!”
The Celtics will now get to sit back, see how the Lakers-Suns series wraps up, and rest up for the finals to begin next Thursday. After a pair of very physical series, Boston no doubt needs this break.
Regardless of who the opponent is, the Celtics will be a confident team, having knocked off in consecutive series the teams with the top two records in the league during the regular season. The Celtics will also be a team hoping that ESPN’s experts continue to pick against them. They did in each of the last two series.
Please do so again.
Follow Stew Winkel on Twitter @stew_winkel