Celtics look to punch ticket, avoid Game 7
They can sense it now.
Better yet, the Celtics can feel the end of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference series against the Orlando Magic after Tuesday night's 92-88 victory gave them a 3-2 lead.
They feel it much the same way Glen Davis has felt his individual game flowing, with 21 points and a winning shot at the buzzer in Game 4 and 22 points and a pair of clutch free throws in Game 5.
"When I hit two [jump] shots, and kept going, I was like, 'Man, this is how it feels; when you're in the zone this is what it feels like,' " said Davis, referring to his positive state of mind during Boston's fourth-quarter rally from a 14-point deficit with 8:48 to go.
"When I'm in the zone," he said, "I know what it is now, and I can take advantage of it."
Asked to describe what it was like to be in that nirvana-like state of play, Davis replied, "Have you ever been dancing? Have you ever danced before?" Then, Big Baby began to soulfully sway from side to side.
"You know, you're just dancing to a nice song . . . and you just let it flow," he said, snapping his fingers, gyrating his hips, and slowly rolling his broad shoulders. "Everything's going your way and you're not forcing anything, you're playing hard, and you feel like everything's going your way."
The Celtics hope to ride that momentum to a clinching victory in Game 6 tonight in Orlando, where they likely will encounter a desperate Magic squad after absorbing back-to-back gut-wrenching losses. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, rested and relaxed after sweeping their first two playoff opponents, lay in wait to see who their dance partner will be in the Eastern Conference finals.
"We're playing freely. No pressure," said Kendrick Perkins. "Nobody expected us to win anything. So we're loose in this locker room."
That, however, may not be the sense in the Magic locker room, where tensions seemed to reach their breaking point Tuesday night. Frustrated by squandering a 77-63 lead, Dwight Howard criticized coach Stan Van Gundy for his questionable substitutions.
"We have to recognize when we have a lead instead of trying to burn the clock out," Howard said. "We just need to move the ball and that is the reason we were winning [by 10] with five minutes to go. We moved the ball, we ran, we got easy shots, and our coach has to recognize when he has a certain group out there and they are getting the job done and we have to leave those guys on the floor."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, meanwhile, made all the right moves, reinserting his starters with 4:55 left and the Celtics trailing, 85-75.
After Davis hit back-to-back jumpers, Rivers's substitutions yielded huge dividends when Paul Pierce, who subbed for Brian Scalabrine, tallied on a driving layup to make it 85-81; Perkins, in the game for Eddie House, scored a reverse layup to cut Orlando's lead to 85-83; and Ray Allen followed with a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics the lead for good, 86-85, with 1:20 to go.
"We've got to finish the game better," Van Gundy said. "You cannot expect help down the stretch. You're playing the champion. Like I said to the them . . . they all watch boxing . . . 'You're in the 12th round against the champ, you're not thinking I've won however many rounds and I'm going to get the decision and put it in the hands of the judges.' You can't do that. You've got to knock him out."
Which is why Rivers expects the Celtics to encounter a more desperate Magic team.
"We're going to get their best shot and that's good," Rivers said. "There's no doubt that we're going to get their best shot."
Since the assemblage of the Big Three, the Celtics have posted a 2-3 record in Game 6s, going 2-2 in last season's run to banner No. 17. Both Game 6 setbacks, however, came on the road: at Atlanta, 103-100, in the first round; and at Cleveland, 74-69, in the conference semis.
Both of Boston's Game 6 victories came on bigger stages, deciding the conference finals at Detroit, 89-81, and the Finals against the Lakers, 131-92.
If the Celtics close out the series tonight, they will get three days to prepare for Monday night's opener of the Eastern Conference finals in Cleveland. If they get extended to a seventh game, and prevail at home Sunday night, the Celtics will have just two days before the start of the conference finals Wednesday night.
"Right now, we're rolling," House said, when asked about fatigue being a factor in Game 6. "We're playing basketball. It's not going to play that much in how we're affected by the game.
"I don't think it will determine whether we will play better or not. Right now, we're just in the flow of just playing every other day."
During the playoffs, an extra day of rest can make a huge difference, especially for team like the Celtics that was extended to seven games in an epic first-round series against Chicago.
The Celtics suffered a disappointing Game 6 loss to the Bulls in triple overtime (128-127). The setback angered Rivers because it robbed his team of any opportunity to get meaningful rest before the series against the Magic, who wound up winning Game 1, 95-90, after leading by as many as 28 points in the second half.
"Without a doubt we want to close this thing out because anything can happen in a Game 7," Pierce said. "I know we've been in a lot of Game 7s, but anything can happen. Our mind-set is to go to Orlando and get the win by any means necessary.
"We're not a team that gives games away and says we can win it at home," he added. "We want to get the job done on the road. Hey, Cleveland's there sitting and waiting. If we can get that done and get a couple days of practice in, that would be fantastic."
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tony Massarotti and Marc J. Spears of the Globe staff contributed to this report.