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Little Nate's big push lifts Celtics to Finals

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

BOSTON -- The absolute, totally insane, beyond incomprehensible moment in many totally insane, beyond incomprehensible moments for Nate Robinson came when the shrimptastic guard tried to dunk on Dwight Howard.

Robinson is the former slam dunk champion who stands at 5-foot-9 on a good day but his powerful legs could launch a small satellite into low orbit. Nevertheless, there are limits to even superhuman hops and during one of the more explosive bursts of this year's playoffs -- a Kobe-like second quarter to remember -- Robinson cocked the basketball high at the end of a break and went directly at the beast Howard.

As Robinson blasted skyward, Howard almost had a look on his face that said, "Seriously? Your short ass is trying to dunk on me?" Howard sprung quickly to attention and when Robinson made contact with Howard's reinforced chest, Robinson bounced off, and hit the ground.

The failed dunk still had repercussions. Earlier, Robinson used his jumpshot to help propel Boston to its second NBA Finals in three years with a 96-84 victory over Orlando. The dunk attempt, no matter how crazy, was also problematic for the Magic because Howard collected his third foul and went to the bench.

"You know, he really won this game for us because the game was in the mix to go either direction and he really gave us a spark," Paul Pierce said of Robinson. "That's really growing up, really growing into a man tonight."

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"Nate Robinson was huge in the first half," said Orlando's Stan Van Gundy. "I mean, that was a huge, huge lift for them ..."

Tiny man with a tall presence in a big game.

There was pseudo-panic setting in this city as the Magic won two straight and Boston began setting up residence in Choke City. The Celtics were playing Bruins basketball and uncomfortable questions were being asked.

Yet as the Celtics have done throughout the playoffs, they grew another star appendage at the perfect time. Rajon Rondo emerged earlier in these playoffs and in a critical Game 6, it was Robinson who saved Boston with a 13-point second quarter.

It's the Celtics' depth and defense that will give either Los Angeles or Phoenix fits. Indeed, anyone who bets against Boston is foolish. The Celtics have demonstrated more mettle than any other team in this postseason during what is the formulation of a possible mini-dynasty.

Other Celtics stars did their usual and Boston's destruction of the thin-skinned Magic was a collective effort. Ray Allen's two 3-pointers to open the third quarter was like a baseball bat to the knee and helped expand a 55-42 halftime lead to 63-44. Pierce was again brilliant with 31 points.

Nate Robinson fills in nicely for banged-up Rajon Rondo and ends with 13 points. (AP)  
Nate Robinson fills in nicely for banged-up Rajon Rondo and ends with 13 points. (AP)  
Make no mistake it was Robinson who truly pushed the Celtics in this game. Robinson entered after Rondo was injured following a hard fall. A 13-point lead shrunk to nine with 10 minutes left in the first half. Then Robinson hit a three-pointer. About 90 seconds later, he hit another. Three minutes after that, he connected on two free throws and a 23-footer. His microburst helped give Boston a 21-point lead and he added three more points after that in the quarter.

At that point the Magic were stunned and the game was basically over. The only thing left to do was wait for Vince Carter to sign with Greece.

"They always told me," Robinson said, "'be ready, be ready [because] you never know.' Today was that day."

Did Robinson win the game? No, but that spurt was insurance and the Celtics could go on cruise control after that.

It was a dominating overall performance by the Celtics as the Magic came up as small as Boston did big. Carter continued to be an embarrassment as his whining percentage to game officials was higher than his shooting percentage. Jameer Nelson, who had been on fire, was a non-factor because of early foul trouble. Howard got his usual allotment of dunks.

Boston coach Doc Rivers was prophetic about Robinson months ago. He said this on April 9 after Robinson scored 13 points in 78 seconds against Washington.

"I think Nate can just wake up and make shots, that's who he is," Rivers said. "He'll win a playoff game for us. There'll be a game where we're flat and we're going to need somebody to come in and make that happen and Nate will do that. He's going to win us a playoff game."

Rivers said he explained to Robinson after Friday's clinching win, "I told him I loved him and I told him at some point, it was going to happen for him. And it was all up to him to stay engaged. And he did."

Then he tried to dunk on Howard and takes guts no matter how tall you are.


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