NBA Finals: Boston Celtics beat Los Angeles Lakers to take 3-2 series lead

Forward Paul Pierce, front, leads four Celtics in double figures with 27 points as Boston finds itself one win from its 18th championship.
Forward Paul Pierce, front, leads four Celtics in double figures with 27 points as Boston finds itself one win from its 18th championship. (Winslow Townson/associated Press)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 14, 2010

BOSTON -- Kobe Bryant showed the Boston Celtics that they couldn't stop him. It didn't matter if they put Ray Allen or Tony Allen on him; double-teamed him or didn't; if he was flying out of bounds or standing 28 feet from the basket. Bryant was going to get his shots, they were going to go in, and there was nothing that could be done about it.

Bryant finally had his breakthrough, but he left TD Garden on Sunday with an empty feeling, angrily storming off the floor, because the Los Angeles Lakers couldn't stop anyone on the Celtics, he failed to secure two critical rebounds in the final four minutes, and his team is heading back to Los Angeles on the brink of elimination.

Bryant scored a game-high 38 points, but Paul Pierce led four Celtics in double-figures with 27 points as Boston won Game 5 of the NBA Finals, 92-86, and took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"You don't want to go into L.A. down 3-2 with two games in L.A," Pierce said. "Great opportunity for us. We've just got to get one. I think we've been a great road team all year. We're just going to try to get it done."

Game 6 is Tuesday in Los Angeles, where the Celtics will have two opportunities to win one more game -- and the 18th championship in franchise history. In a series in which neither team had been able to maintain momentum beyond the buzzer from the last game, the Celtics won their last two home games, including a frantically played finale.

"This was huge for us," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "Let's just be honest. For us, we had to win this game, and that's what we felt going into it."

Despite Bryant's efforts to deliver a victory through unconscionable shots, the Celtics repeatedly had the answer -- either a Pierce jumper, or a Kevin Garnett pull-up jumper, or a Ray Allen layup. Offensively-limited center Kendrick Perkins even hit a fall-away jumper. And the Celtics also beat Bryant for two huge rebounds.

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (18 points, eight assists) soared over Bryant to tap in an offensive rebound to give Boston an 87-75 lead with 3 minutes 56 seconds remaining. And, after Byant completed a 7-0 run for the Lakers, making three free throws to bring them within five, Ron Artest missed two free throws and Bryant lost a tussle for a rebound with Pierce.

The Celtics called timeout and Garnett (18 points, 10 rebounds) threw a dangerous pass to Pierce which Pierce barely recovered, tiptoeing along the sideline, before he found Rondo cutting to the basket for an acrobatic layup that gave the Celtics an 89-82 lead with 35 seconds remaining. "I was just showing off my Randy Moss and my Tom Brady in one play, that's all," Pierce said, referencing the NFL's New England Patriots. "Going up to catch it, then I went to my Brady mode when I was falling out of bounds to find Rondo for the receiving end. I was a little nervous when he shot it, but he made a great play."

Bryant went on an offensive binge, scoring 23 consecutive points for the Lakers in a 12-minute span between the second and third quarters. He made seven straight field goals to start the third quarter, hitting fadeaways, turnaround jumpers and three-pointers, all with Allen straddling him. He caught an alley-oop pass from Derek Fisher and directed the ball into the hoop before momentum pushed him out of bounds. "He's the kind of guy you ride a hot hand, that's for sure," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, adding that he had no problem with his shooting display. "We were waiting for him to do that."

It was a sensational outburst, but the rest of Bryant's teammates were subjugated to being spectators -- Pau Gasol was the only other Laker to shoot the ball during that third-quarter stretch -- and Rivers had his team well prepared. He told his players that they would have to win a game "where he goes off for a big number" and not to "overreact."

"It's amazing that he does that to your team," Rivers said afterward. "He was making tough shots. I just tried to keep telling them, it's only two points every time he scores. It's not 10."

After Bryant made his last jumper of the period, the Lakers trailed 64-56. He later hit two free throws to bring the Lakers within nine, but the Celtics got consecutive layups from Allen to push the lead back to 71-58.

Gasol finally ended the Bryant run when he converted a three-point play. But it was a difficult night for Gasol, who scored just two points in the first half and finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Lakers center Andrew Bynum scored six points in 31 minutes after torn cartilage in his right knee limited him to just 12 minutes in the Game 4, but he had just one rebound and was scoreless after the first quarter, when he grimaced and grabbed his injured knee after dunking an alley-oop pass from Bryant.

"I'm not very confident at all," Bryant joked, when asked if his team could win two games at Staples Center to claim the title. "Just man up and play. I don't see it as a big deal. We're down 3-2, go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that."

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