BOSTON (AP) – The first-round victory over Chicago bought the Boston Celtics two more weeks, and as they went into Game 7 against Orlando they allowed themselves to wonder whether they could extend their season long enough to get Kevin Garnett out of street clothes and on the court.

“Clearly, that’s why we didn’t do surgery. I think that was not a secret,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the Magic eliminated the defending champions with a 101-82 victory on Sunday night. “At one point, he was going to do surgery. And then we decided, ‘Well, why?’ Just fate, hope – you never know. So we were hoping. But I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Garnett played a total of 66 minutes, 18 seconds in the last two months of the regular season because of strained ligaments and what the team said is an unrelated bone spur in his right knee that will require surgery. The Celtics had hoped to get him back into shape for the playoffs, but Rivers announced on the eve of the postseason that Garnett would not be back.

The 6-foot-11 superstar watched the playoffs from the bench and the team consistently shot down any suggestion that he might be able to return. But the playoffs are a two-month affair – Boston clinched the championship on June 17 last year – and the Celtics allowed themselves to hope.

“We were hoping,” Rivers said.

Backup Leon Powe, who is a free agent, has already had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus; he will need nine months to a year to recover. But Garnett’s surgery and recovery will be finished in time for the 2009-10 opener, Rivers said, so there was no harm in waiting – just in case.

“It’s no rush,” Rivers said. “His surgery is not going to be anything that’s going to take all summer.”

But the Celtics are in a rush.

The new Big Three that won the franchise’s 17th NBA title last season could be split up after next season, when Ray Allen is scheduled to become a free agent. Plus, Garnett turns 33 on Tuesday, and he already has 14 years of NBA experience in a body that has already broken down once.

Paul Pierce, who has two more years under contract, will be 32 and Allen will be 34.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have the big fella for this run,” Pierce said. “The main thing right now for him is to get healthy, keep the core together, bring him back next year and see what happens. Hopefully we can stay healthy next year in the playoffs. Honestly, I believe we are the best team in the NBA still when we have a healthy group of guys.”

Even Magic star Dwight Howard was left to wonder.

“I always loved playing against KG. He has been a role model for me my whole life and to see him go down was sad for me,” he said after eliminating the Celtics on Sunday night. “I just hope he comes back 100 percent and I look forward to playing against him next year.”

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, who made the deals to bring Garnett and Allen to Boston, has to decide whether to bring back free agent Glen “Big Baby” Davis. The second-year, second-round pick filled in for Garnett during the injury and showed signs that he’s worth keeping.

“I’ve just got to go where the opportunity is at,” Davis said. “The city, the fans, the players, the coaching staff have been a really important part of my game and helped me flourish as a player. I’m always gonna have a soft spot, winning the championship here. I just hope it works out for the best and everybody is satisfied.”

Backup point guard Stephon Marbury is also a free agent, along with little-used backup big man Mikki Moore. Eddie House, the 3-point sharpshooter, has a player option for 2009-10.

Davis averaged 21 minutes in the regular season and 36 in the playoffs, watching his scoring average go from seven points to 15.8 and his rebounds bump from four to 5.6 per game; he also hit the game-winning shot in Game 4 against Orlando. Davis said he thought this Celtics team would have a good chance to add title No. 18 next year, “especially with my confidence coming off the bench and understanding the game even more.

“You know with Paul, with a hungrier Kevin, it’s gonna be hard to beat us,” he said. “So, you know, just wait for all this to die, get ready, train and get ready for next season.”

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