BOSTON, JUNE 7 -- About 3,000 miles from the glitz and glitter of Los Angeles, the Boston Celtics came home to their ancient arena and found an answer to the Lakers' dazzling fast break today.

The Celtics came away with a 109-103 victory in Game 3 of the NBA finals, and a series that seemed so lopsided suddenly got a lot more interesting on the parquet floor of Boston Garden, where the Celtics have won 85 of their last 87 games.

After the opening two games of this best-of-seven series, both dominated by the Lakers, it appeared there was no way Boston would be able to compete, let alone successfully defend last season's championship. But after 30 points and 12 rebounds from Larry Bird and 26 and seven from guard Dennis Johnson -- and a key offensive rebound and basket by Kevin McHale late in the game -- the Celtics will go into Game 4 Tuesday night looking to even the series at 2-2.

"Before, we tried to play their game and found out that was hard to do because they've been playing at one of the highest levels ever played," Boston assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers said. "Below the knees we're not their equals. They're fast, they've got the quick feet. We have to be better than them above the shoulders, play smarter than them."

The Celtics controlled the tempo most of the game. Jamming whichever Laker was attempting the outlet pass and hustling back on defense helped slow Los Angeles. In the first two games, the Western Conference champions scored 46 and 64 fast-break points; today they had 14.

Just as important as its defensive effort was Boston's ability to patiently run its offense. In the first two games, the Celtics shot 55 percent from the floor, but they did it in the context of the Lakers' fast-paced style, a game Boston is not suited to play.

That showed in Boston's number of field goal attempts after just one or two passes. Today, slowing things down, the Celtics hit only 49 percent of their attempts. But in this case, no of them was complaining.

The Celtics hit just 32 percent in the opening quarter and trailed, 29-22. But in the final 36 minutes, they hit 34 of 61 (56 percent). As Magic Johnson (team-high 32 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) so accurately put it, "you can't run when they're makin' all their shots."

That started in the second quarter, when the Celtics made 17 of 21 from the field to take a 60-56 halftime lead. In the third period, hitting 43 percent, they increased their lead to 86-78.

But despite Boston's shooting accuracy, despite the tremendous boost they received from substitute center Greg Kite, despite the relative disappearance of Los Angeles' fast break and the scoring of star forward James Worthy, the Lakers still came within an eyelash of sneaking out of Boston Garden with their third win of the series and 14th in 15 playoff encounters.

Boston center Robert Parish, having spent most of the first three periods on the bench, helped keep the Lakers at bay early in the fourth, scoring eight points, the last two giving the Celtics a 98-88 lead with 7:18 remaining.

Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27 points) helped the Lakers get within 103-96 with 3:27 left. That seven-point deficit could have been pared more had Worthy not missed a dunk or guard Byron Scott (two for nine, four points) misfired on a pair of three-point field goal attempts.

"The last five or six minutes we could have gotten better shots," said Lakers Coach Pat Riley. "But, then again, when you're down eight or nine points late in a game and you have a good look at a three-pointer you have to take it."

A three-point play by Magic Johnson with just more than three minutes remaining made the score 104-99, Boston. There was 2:52 on the clock when Bird hit two free throws to put Boston up by seven.

For Bird, harassed unmercifully by Michael Cooper, those were the first points of the quarter. And forward McHale was scoreless in the period, but he came up with what likely was the game's critical play after Abdul-Jabbar had answered Bird's points with a sky hook, making it 106-101 with 2:35 left.

On the subsequent possession, Boston again waited for a good shot, but it never came. Cooper had Bird strangled in the right corner, and when the basketball moved over to the other side of the floor to Dennis Johnson, the Lakers rotated their defense nicely, with Magic Johnson pressuring the guard.

The 24-second clock went off just as Johnson launched a fadeaway jumper from about 20 feet. The shot missed badly, but McHale rebounded and laid the ball in. It was the Celtics' 17th offensive rebound of the game (they had 20 in the first two combined) -- another reason for their resurgence today.

"Maybe one or two times it's the bounce of the ball, but they just outhustled us today," said Cooper.

After McHale's critical basket, the Lakers continued to flounder. Worthy again penetrated the lane but attempted a difficult pass that was stolen, Scott missed another three-pointer. In the final minute, the Celtics applied their closing statement; an errant and anonymous elbow into Magic Johnson's midsection that left him gasping and out of breath for a change.

"I'm sure sitting there and watching the films of them getting beat on the fast break for three days helped them a great deal," Riley said. "Today there were no guys standing around in the back court."

"We didn't allow them to get those six or seven points in a row on fast breaks," said Dennis Johnson. "And {Coach} K.C. {Jones} said that if we kept running our plays all the way through, we'd do all right. I guess we just had to figure that out."