Is an 18th NBA banner for the new Garden just six wins away?  Ok, we're getting ahead of ourselves, but the Celtics are looking more and more like a team of destiny.  Following two wins on the road in Orlando in the Eastern Conference Final, and some extra rest for their old bones, Doc Rivers and the C's return home to Beantown to host the Magic in Game 3 on Saturday. ESPN's broadcast will begin at 8:30 p.m. (ET).

The shine is back on the Boston Celtics.

Doc RiversThey’re the most decorated team in the history of the NBA: 17 championships, two more than the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics got their most recent title in 2008 after acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce on one of the most dominant teams ever assembled.

Two years later and two years older, Boston’s “Big Three” are still formidable players, but it’s the rise of star point guard Rajon Rondo that has allowed the Celtics to return to championship form. Boston is 10-3 SU and ATS in these playoffs and two wins away from yet another NBA Finals appearance.

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This is a shocking turn of events to say the least. Two weeks ago, the Celtics were down 2-1 in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the favored Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic were on the verge of sweeping their series against the Atlanta Hawks. The Magic were the hottest team in the league at 20-2 SU (17-4-1 ATS) going into the Eastern finals; now they’re 0-2 SU and ATS against the Celtics after losing twice at home, at -6½ and -7.

Orlando could just as easily be up 2-0. Sunday’s Game 1 and Tuesday’s Game 2 both went down to the wire, but that’s shocking enough considering the Magic had been winning by giant margins all year long. Orlando had the best point differential in the NBA during the regular season at plus-7.5. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, the average winning margin for the Magic was 17.25 points. The betting odds didn’t stand a chance as Orlando went 7-1 ATS combined versus the Hawks and the Charlotte Bobcats.

If the Magic had pulled out either of those first two games at Amway Arena, perhaps the Boston bandwagon wouldn’t be filling back up this quickly. Consensus reports at press time had the Celtics pulling in 92 percent support; the C’s opened as three-point faves at most offshore books and moved up as high as four in response to the marketplace. The total was holding firm at 190 points; both games in Orlando went UNDER the totals of 188 and 188½ as the two defensive juggernauts smashed into one another.

And I do mean smashed. Basketball is a contact sport, and Boston is literally on the attack in this series, lashing out at Dwight Howard with malice and aforethought. Both Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce fouled out of Game 2. Rasheed Wallace picked up five fouls in 18 minutes off the bench. Howard was 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) from the line, but this aggressive strategy isn’t just about exploiting Howard’s poor free throw shooting (59.2 percent during the regular season). It’s more about throwing Howard and his teammates off their game.

It’s working. Howard responded to his attackers in Game 2 not by turning the other cheek, but by committing a nasty flagrant foul 1 on Pierce. The league office decided Wednesday not to upgrade that foul to a flagrant 2 and suspend Howard for Saturday’s Game 3 at the Garden. That’s as close to sanctioned violence as you’re going to get in the NBA. If this incident had happened during the regular season, in my professional opinion, Howard would have been suspended. He certainly can’t count on getting away with it again.

Boston was able to defend Howard one-on-one with Perkins (and then Wallace), so even though Howard scored 30 points in Game 2, the other four Celtics were able to shut Orlando down. Rashard Lewis (2-of-6, five points) and Vince Carter (5-of-15, 16 points) failed to provide the secondary scoring that the Magic got last year from Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.

Carter is the easy punching bag here for frustrated Orlando supporters, but he’s not the only one on that Magic bench who needs to man up, as it were. Too bad we don’t have a statistic for that.

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