Sports

Pierce provides spark in Celtic win

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 the Orlando Magic 96-84 on Friday night, earning a chance to play for a second NBA title in three years.

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 tonight would set up the cross-coast rivals for a rematch of the 2008 finals — and 10 other championship series from 1959-87.

"We got back to moving the ball, playing good defense, not allowing them to shoot the three-point shot. That was the key," Pierce said.

The Magic, who dressed in the same locker room where the Flyers celebrated their comeback, couldn't match it — or even force the series back to Orlando for a Game 7.

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 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 three-pointers 90 seconds apart to help stretch the lead to 15 points. Boston led 44-25 when Robinson stole a bad pass from Carter and took off on the fast break, getting bowled over at the other end to draw a flagrant foul on Nelson.

The free throws gave Boston a 21-point lead — its biggest of the first half.

"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. "... That's really growing up, really growing into a man tonight."

NOTES: Rondo hit the court hard and was slow to get up after he was fouled by Jason Williams late in the final minute of the first quarter. He stayed in the game and hit both free throws. ... The Celtics are 9-2 against the Los Angeles and Minneapolis Lakers in the finals. The Celtics and Suns have met once in the finals, when Boston won 4-2 in 1976. ... Celtics F Rasheed Wallace left the game in the fourth quarter with back spasms and did not return. He had no points — shooting 0 for 5 — and three rebounds in 12 minutes.

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