The NBA's most-decorated team avoided the biggest playoff collapse in league history and earned a chance to hang an unprecedented 18th championship banner from the rafters.

Paul Pierce had 31 points and 13 rebounds, and little-used backup Nate Robinson gave the Celtics a boost with 13 second-quarter points as Boston beat visiting the Orlando Magic, 96-84, last night, earning a chance to play for a second NBA title in 3 years.

The finals will begin Thursday in either Los Angeles or Phoenix. The Lakers lead the Suns, 3-2, in the Western Conference finals. Game 6 is today.

"We got back to moving the ball, playing good defense, not allowing them to shoot the three-point shot. That was the key," Pierce said.

Dwight Howard had 28 points and 12 rebounds as the defending East champions failed to get back to the finals. Vince Carter scored 17 points, and Jameer Nelson finished with 11 points and four assists as he was outplayed by Boston's starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, and Robinson, his backup.