By ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
The Orlando Magic vowed to make the Eastern Conference Finals a series prior to Game Three.
But Boston wouldn't let them.
The Magic vowed to avenge Boston's two wins in Orlando, and cut the Celtics lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
But the Celtics denied them.
The Magic promised to leave it all on the floor and make Paul Pierce eat the words he said immediately after Game Two - "We're gonna try to close this out in two games, ya'll hear me. We're comin' home [to] close it out."
But it's looking more and more like Pierce is a true fortune teller.
It didn't matter to the Magic that history was against them, they were confident. It didn't matter that they've never overcome a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series in the history of their franchise (0-for-5) or that the Celtics have never lost a best-of-seven series after going up 2-0 (the Celtics are 32-0 in those contests).
They vowed to come out with a bigger sense of urgency, quiet the sellout crowd of 18,624 at the TD Garden, and end all talk of them not being tough enough to compete with the Celtics.
But the Celtics were on a mission of their own. They remember that it was the Magic who closed down the old, historic Boston Garden in 1995 when they eliminated the Celtics from the playoffs and, with the demolition of Amway Arena set to begin sometime after Orlando's season ends, the Celtics are trying to return the favor. They remember that the last time they had a three-day layoff in the postseason they suffered their worst playoff loss in the history of their storied franchise, a 29-point shellacking by Cleveland, and said all week that would not happen again.
Both teams came as close as you can to guaranteeing a win in Game Three without saying the words so something had to give on the parquet floor. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, it was the Celtics who emerged with a 94-71 victory that gave them a commanding 3-0 series lead.
A victory in Monday's Game Four will send the Celtics to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.
And that has been their goal all season.
"It's about winning the championship and putting another (championship) banner up," Boston point guard Rajon Rondo said.
The Celtics have now won six straight playoff games for the first time since 1986.
"We have bigger goals, to win the championship," Boston captain Paul Pierce said. "Even though it's a nice streak going, we don't settle on just what we've done right now. Because it's such a big picture to what we're trying to do, that just being a group that's won a championship, that knows what it takes, that's been to the mountain top, you know, these games are meaningful."
Like they've done all postseason, the Celtics won the game by playing team basketball. Six Celtics scored in double digits. Glen Davis (17 points, 6 rebounds) led the way. He scored more points than Orlando's starting frontcourt of Dwight Howard (7 points, 8 rebounds) and Rashard Lewis (4 points, 4 rebounds) combined.
Ray Allen (14 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), Rajon Rondo (11 points, 12 assists, 4 steals), Paul Pierce (15 points, 9 rebounds), Kevin Garnett (10 points, 6 rebounds) and Rasheed Wallace (10 points, 4 rebounds) also reached double-digits in scoring for the Celtics.
"We have so many weapons," Rondo said. "We believe in the system. We're doing a great job in the scouting report and we're continuing to play together. We haven't done anything yet. We're still hungry. We definitely want to win the title but we only won two games in Orlando and we want to come here and close it out.
"We're a deep team and we're going to keep fighting and believing in each other."
"This is a very determined group, I would say," Pierce said. "You can see it every day around these guys. And with every win that comes, the more and more confident I think we grow."
"Everybody's healthy. Everybody's focused. Everyone's listening and everyone is buying into the defensive schemes. When you get that, with the health, you have a chance," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
The Celtics made the hottest team in the league over the second half of the season (27-3, winners of 14 straight before running into the Celtics) look like a junior varsity team Saturday night. Boston set the tempo from the opening tip and ran Orlando out of the arena, leading by as much as 24 in the first half before coasting the rest of the way. The Celtics set the pace by playing smothering defense, which translated into points on the offensive end.
The Celtics made three of their first four shots to open up the game with a quick 7-0 run to stun Orlando. But the Magic didn't fold right away. Instead, they amped up their play on both ends of the court and scored the next six points to close the gap to 7-6. That's as close as they came to Boston's lead the entire game as the Celtics never trailed in this one.
Allen ended Boston's brief shooting drought (0-for-6, 2 turnovers) and brought the crowd to its collective feet when he beat Dwight Howard to the basket and threw down an emphatic one-handed jam. That righted the ship for Boston and sparked a 15-0 Celtic surge which pushed their lead to 21-6.
Boston forced six turnovers over the opening nine minutes of the game which helped their cause, and Allen was outscoring Orlando all by himself at that point, 7-6. The Celtics didn't stop there. After taking a 27-12 lead into the second quarter, the Celtics outscored the Magic 16-7 over the opening five minutes to build their biggest lead of the first half, 43-19. Davis capped off the run by scoring seven straight points for the Celtics. Prior to that, Rondo had scored Boston's previous five points. At the time, the Celtics were holding the Magic to just 29.2 percent shooting while knocking down 57.6 percent of their shots. Orlando had no chance after that. The Celtics led by 17 at halftime and 75-47 after three quarters of action. The Celtics led by as much as 32 points in the fourth quarter and the crowd chanted "Beat L.A." throughout much of the quarter. Jameer Nelson led Orlando with 15 points and 4 rebounds.
The Celtics held the Magic to 36.9 percent shooting while knocking down 46.6 percent of their shots, and they scored 21 points off of 17 Orlando turnovers while only turning the ball over seven times themselves.
After struggling during the regular season at home, the Celtics are now 6-1 at the Garden in the postseason.
"We've turned a lot of things around, so hopefully it can continue in the playoffs,'' said Pierce of winning on the parquet floor. "We're playing well at home in the playoffs. That's all we worry about. We're staying on point with what's happening right now. We feel like a confident team at home right now."