Celtics turn back time to return to NBA Finals


Reporting from Boston -- Hollywood, beware. And that means you, L.A.

The aging Boston Celtics have gone Benjamin Button on the NBA, a curious case of reversing the aging process as a playoff team.

Looking too old and broken down the last half of the season, the Celtics are back in the NBA Finals. They ousted the Orlando Magic, 96-84, on Friday night at TD Garden to win the Eastern Conference crown.

The Celtics won the NBA title in 2008 by beating the Lakers and will be playing in the championship round for the second time in three seasons.

And yes, as if on cue, Celtics fans chanted, “We want L.A.!” — prematurely, as far as the Phoenix Suns are concerned. The Lakers can close out the Suns on Saturday.

The Boston faithful could have started chanting early as Boston again took control early for the third time against the Magic in the six-game series.

Paul Pierce was unstoppable again and led all scorers with 31 points and 13 rebounds. But it was reserve Nate Robinson, a 5-foot-9 point guard, who provided the lift by scoring 13 points off the bench.

After a hot start to the season, the Celtics finished 27-27, troubled mostly by injuries. Coach Doc Rivers basically gave away games to allow Pierce and Kevin Garnett, among others, some rest, putting them on rehab assignments, so to speak.

“It didn’t look right because we were losing games, but guys were resting and conditioning, and I thought it was the only chance we had,” Rivers said. “There were no guarantees, but we had a chance healthy. So my gamble was, let’s take health. So we lost some games, but we got healthy.”

The Magic had fallen into an 0-3 hole that no team was ever escaped, but it won the next two games.

The Celtics — and Boston — were hearing the agonizing echoes of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, who blew a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers.

“I never really think negative about losing or being up 3-0 and something tragic happens,” Pierce said. “My whole mind-set coming in here is that we were going to win no matter what. As far as what happened with hockey, this is not hockey. It’s basketball.”

The Celtics still weren’t too sure the way Magic All-Star Dwight Howard was knocking people out. Boston fans booed Howard after he had given Glen “Big Baby” Davis a concussion in Orlando’s Game 5 win with a wayward but inadvertent elbow.

A Boston columnist suggested the Celtics administer some “frontier justice,” but there were no incidents in the Celtics’ close-out game.

Howard scored 28 points with 12 rebounds but didn’t have nearly enough help.

In the end, it was the beginning of the games that doomed the Magic’s championship hopes.

“It’s disappointing. We put a lot into the season,” point guard Jameer Nelson said.

“We fell short. You can’t say what level of pain it is.”