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The Boston Celtics could have used a break during parts of the season with all their injuries. Now the last thing they want is time off.
Showing no signs of age, the revived Celtics took a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 95-92 victory over the Orlando Magic in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Paul Pierce scored 28 points, and Rajon Rondo had 25 as 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.
Now they'll have to wait until Saturday for Game 3 in Boston.
"I wish we could take them to Alcatraz for four days and be on the island all by ourselves," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said about his team. "That's not going to happen. Going home, it's great in some ways. In a lot of ways, but in other ways, it's tough. Everywhere they go, they're going to hear how great they are.
"We haven't done anything - you need four wins; we have two."
After being hampered by injuries for much of the season, often looking slow and worn down, the Celtics are just two wins away from their second NBA finals appearance in three seasons.
Age doesn't seem to matter these days for Boston's veterans.
Rasheed Wallace (35), Kevin Garnett (34), Ray Allen (34) and Pierce (32) are back to their winning ways. The Celtics have won five straight for the first time since they rolled off 11 in a row before Christmas.
"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 was an airball 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."
The Celtics buckled down just enough to hold on 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 gave Orlando a 90-89 lead with 3:35 remaining, and then the Celtics summoned their championship form again.
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.
"I don't take losses well," said Carter, Orlando's biggest offseason acquisition. "Especially when you're on a team like this. They bring me in to make plays and deliver in crunch time. For me to step up there and miss two free throws, regardless, this doesn't sit well with me."
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 mindset 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."
Before the final heave, Redick also made a crucial mistake by dribbling to half court before calling timeout. That wasted seconds and forced the Magic to take the ball out from beyond half court.
The result was a shot that didn't reach the rim.
"It would have made a big difference," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We said in the thing to call a timeout. We didn't make the right play there at the end."
Redick took the blame.
"I made a mistake," he said. "I didn't hear the whistle initially. When I didn't hear it initially, I just kind of went, then I realized we should have called a timeout. So that was my fault."
The Celtics went ahead by 11 in the first quarter. It wasn't until backup center Marcin Gortat and Howard - a rare combination this season - teamed together that Orlando showed any fight. With the Magic feeling intense postseason pressure for the first time this year, Orlando went on a 16-2 run behind the two centers.
All the pushing and pulling would finally spill over.
Pierce was knocked in the head hard by Howard on a layup attempt in the second quarter. Pierce got up after a minute, clearly upset, his headband twisted to the side. Howard was called for a flagrant foul.
The Celtics would go ahead by five after Howard picked up his third foul moments later. Before they could deliver another big blow, Matt Barnes hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded in the final seconds for Orlando to trim Boston's lead to 53-51 at the half.
The Celtics are feeling good, but not overconfident.
"The feeling of the team right now is just focus," Pierce said. "Only thing we did was win two games."
This program aired on May 19, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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