By Chris Mannix
May 13, 2009

BOSTON -- If there are basketball gods, they hate the Boston Celtics. Boston, however, hates them right back.

When the hoops overlords wrench the most obscure tendon in Kevin Garnett's knee and shred Leon Powe's ACL, the Celtics shove Brian Scalabrine in their face. When they curse Rajon Rondo with a six-point, three-turnover effort in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Celtics counter with Stephon Marbury's 12-points-in-14-minutes explosion. And when they bury Boston with a 14-point deficit with nine minutes to play on Tuesday, Boston responds with a 29-11 run to close out the game and seal an improbable 92-88 victory (RECAP | BOX).

If there was ever a team that personified what it means to win on blood and guts, it's the Celtics. They shouldn't be here, one victory away from the conference finals. Not with their frontcourt depleted and their two thirtysomething superstars (Ray Allen and Paul Pierce) logging the minutes of a couple of 25-year-olds. Not with a point guard (Rondo) operating on two bad ankles and a starting center (Kendrick Perkins) who needs to wrap a glacier of ice on his shoulder in order to shut out the pain.

Besides, the mystique is gone. No one is afraid of Boston anymore. Certainly not Chicago, which pushed the Celtics to the limit in the first round after squeaking into the playoffs. And not Orlando, which has bullied Boston through quarters 1-3 of this series but can't seem to figure out how to close them out in No. 4.

"We're not just going to show up and beat teams," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I think [the team] understands that. But they are willing to go through that to win."

What drives the Celtics? For Glen Davis, the hero of Game 4, it's "the celebration."

"I think about that all the time," Davis said. "I think about the champagne in the locker room, about having to wear goggles to keep it out of my eyes. I think about the parade and getting to kiss that trophy."

Said Allen: "I think about those things, too. At shootaround this morning, I was thinking about the celebration in Detroit [after Boston won the East last year]. Just knowing you had made it. That's a great feeling, a motivating feeling."

For Perkins, it's the knowledge that everyone has counted them out.

"When you're doubted, it pushes you," Perkins said. "That's how we think, that no one thinks we can do it. We want a chance to prove people wrong."

They have that chance now. Orlando is crumbling. The coach blames the players. After the game, Stan Van Gundy said his team "quit playing" in the final four minutes and said the game was lost when his players stopped running and started walking.

Dwight Howard pointed the finger at the coaches.

"I think you're supposed to play to win," Howard said. "[You are] not supposed to try to lose. ... The coaches have to recognize what's working on the floor and stick to it."

And the Magic still have no fourth-quarter scorer.

The opportunity to defy the doubters is there. If Allen and Pierce can push their battered bodies through a Game 6, if Rondo's ankles hold up and if Perkins can piece his shoulder together for one more game, the Celtics' surprising playoff run will continue one more round.

Of course, that means Cleveland. No one gives them a chance in that series. Right?

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