THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

A bruising victory and a shot at banner 18

BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS Captain Paul Pierce (31 points) celebrates after making a shot as he led the Celtics in last night’s win against Orlando. BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS
Captain Paul Pierce (31 points) celebrates after making a shot as he led the Celtics in last night’s win against Orlando. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 29, 2010

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The Red Sox, Patriots, and yes, even the Bruins have had their moments over the last 110 years, but we would do well to remember it is the local professional basketball franchise that has brought the most honor and hardware to the sports Hub of the Universe.

Invented by Walter Brown in 1946 and made great by Red Auerbach and Bill Russell, the Celtics are the team that rarely lets you down when it matters most. They don’t choke, they rarely lose Game 7s, and they certainly don’t blow a series in which they lead three games to none.

And that is why it comes as no surprise that the Green Team dismantled the Magic on the fabled parquet floor last night. On a night when pundits and poets speculated about an epic fold and exposure of old bones, the Celtics throttled Orlando, 96-84, in Game 6 to advance to the NBA Finals for the 21st time since 1957. The Celtics are 17-3 in the championship round and will play either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Phoenix Suns (LA leads, 3-2, going into tonight’s game), beginning Thursday night at the home of the Western Conference winner.

Former Celtic and NBA MVP Dave Cowens, who would have fit in nicely with this crew, was on hand to present the conference championship trophy to owner Wyc Grousbeck. Cowens urged the Celtics to “go out there on behalf of the NBA and Red Auerbach and all Celtics present and past and bring home No. 18.’’

Explaining why he never lost faith in a team that went 27-27 over its final 54 regular-season games, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “This starting five has never lost a series. Ever . . . This is where we thought we’d be. Don’t be surprised. We did go through tough times, but we kept saying, as a staff, ‘It’s in us.’ ’’

Like most of his players, Rivers is throwing nothing but sevens and 11s at this hour. How else do we explain Nate Robinson? The diminutive three-time slam dunk champ came to Boston from the Knicks in February and managed to play himself to the deep end of the bench. Robinson was not part of Rivers’s playoff rotation, but still Doc predicted that the little guy would be a factor in at least one game.

Nobody believed Rivers. Doc probably didn’t even believe himself. More likely, the coach was just being nice.

But it happened. After Rajon Rondo was splattered on the floor late in the first quarter (by Dwight Howard, of course), Robinson came off the bench to score an astounding 13 points in the second quarter as the Celtics bolted to a 21-point lead. This was the same Nate Robinson who scored a grand total of 6 points, playing a total of 16 minutes, in the first five games of the series.

“Nate Robinson stayed focused in 30 straight games without playing,’’ noted Rivers.

Robinson was hardly alone. Captain Paul Pierce was immense, torching the Magic for 31 points with 13 rebounds (“We were going to win this game no matter what,’’ he said). Ray Allen added 20 points and it should be mentioned Glen Davis rebounded from his Wednesday night to provide 6 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.

“Give them credit,’’ said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. “They are playing very well right now. You have to admire them.’’

In the wake of Wednesday’s triage-tainted Celtics loss at Amway Arena, there was measurable pregame angst in the region. Two Celtics suffered a concussion in Game 5 and the massive Howard emerged as a modern-day villain in the mold of Wilt Chamberlain or Moses Malone. Newbie Celtic fans weren’t sure what to expect when they poured into the Causeway Cauldron for Game 6.

Rivers said, “After everything that happened, I was concerned going into this game that it would get ugly.’’

The Celtics’ Game Presentation Folk worked overtime to whip the crowd into a frenzy before warm-ups. The giant videoboard displayed an image of Friday’s Boston Herald cover with Howard featured next to a headline that read “Take Him Out.’’ Then we saw grainy footage of Kevin McHale’s takedown of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 Finals and script regarding the deliverance of blows. Promoting this theme on the scoreboard was pretty bush-league stuff by Boston standards. Better at times like this to remember that we are not Yahoo Orlando or Raleigh. Fans in Boston know what to do without coaching from the videoboard.

After two days of nonstop noise about officiating (convicted felon Tim Donaghy emerged as a media go-to guy), NBA commissioner David Stern summoned the benign/vanilla trio of Monty McCutchen, Mike Callahan, and Ken Mauer for Game 6. For sure you weren’t going to see Joey Crawford, Billy Kennedy, or Joe West after all the mayhem in Game 5. Kevin Garnett denied Howard a pregame fist bump.

Before the game, Van Gundy went on about how the NBA — contrary to popular notion — is actually a first-quarter league. For decades it’s been trendy to claim that everything you need to see happens in the final two minutes. The Magic coach reminded all that the team that wins the first quarter usually wins the game.

It was therefore heartening for Hub fans to see the Celtics race to a 30-19 lead in the first 12 minutes. Highlights were many, but it would be hard to top Pierce’s fast-break throwdown off a pass from Rondo (12 points in the quarter) in the final minute. If you’re a Celtic fan you’ll always take an 11-point lead with no points from Garnett in the first quarter.

The second quarter belonged to Robinson and the Celtics went ahead by 21 before settling for a 55-42 halftime lead.

All doubt was erased in the third as the Celtics ran out to an 80-56 lead. Pierce had 11 in the quarter.

The first “Beat LA’’ chants were heard during a timeout with the Celtics leading, 85-65, with 8:40 left. Players on the Celtic bench were already wearing their conference championship hats while Rondo and friends dribbled out the clock.

Red would have been lighting a stogie right about then — thinking about the next game, which will be Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night in Los Angeles or Phoenix.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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