Celtics 92, Lakers 86

Paul Pierce is heading back to his hometown, and a second NBA

championship could be waiting for him.

A Los Angeles native who has played his entire career with the

rival Celtics, Pierce scored 27 points to help Boston withstand 38

points from Kobe Bryant to beat the Lakers 92-86 on Sunday night

and move within one victory of an unprecedented 18th NBA title.

The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday

night, and a victory then or in Game 7 in L.A. on Thursday would

give Pierce the chance to celebrate in the city where he grew

up.

“It’s going to have to happen if we’re going to win the

title,” Pierce said. “I mean, that would be great. I’m not going

to try to jinx it right now. We’ve got to win one game; that’s the

goal. But it would be amazing if we get it done.”

With the “Beat L.A!” chant reverberating through the TD

Garden, Kevin Garnett scored 18 points with 10 rebounds and Rajon

Rondo had 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds to help Boston

become the first team in the series to win two games in a row. If

Los Angeles can’t do the same at home, the Celtics will improve to

10-2 against them in the finals, from a 4-0 sweep over the

Minneapolis Lakers in 1959 through the Bird-and-Magic era of the

’80s and Boston’s win in ’08.

But Bryant said neither the rivalry nor revenge should be

motivating his teammates when they try to stave off elimination at

home.

“Just man up and play. What the hell is the big deal?” he

said. “If I have to say something to them, then we don’t deserve

to be champions. We’re down 3-2: Go home, win one game, go into the

next one. Simple as that.”

Bryant was the MVP of the finals last year, when the Lakers beat

the Orlando Magic to win their 15th championship. But Pierce earned

the honor at his expense in ’08, when the new Big Three beat the

Lakers to raise an NBA-record 17th banner to the rafters at

Boston’s TD Garden.

Bryant outscored Pierce this time, but the Lakers’ guard got

little help from his teammates. And the stretch where he was most

dominant was also the time when the Celtics pulled away.

“I wasn’t in a personal duel,” Pierce said. “I didn’t notice

that we were going back-and-forth scoring at the time. He’s a tough

player. He makes shots.”

Lakers coach Phil Jackson defended Bryant’s attempts to take

over the offense.

“He’s the kind of guy (where) you ride the hot hand, that’s for

sure,” Jackson said. “We were waiting for him to do that. … He

went out there and found a rhythm.”

Bryant did everything he could to send the Lakers home with the

edge.

He scored 23 straight Lakers points between the 4:23 mark of the

second quarter until there was 2:16 left in the third. But over

that span, the Celtics expanded the lead from one point to 13.

“I just tried to keep telling them, it’s only 2 points each

time he scores. It’s not 10,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

“It’s just like if someone else was scoring. … I love that our

guys for the most part, they understood what he was doing. But we

defended everyone else. And I thought it was big.”

And Pierce was having his best game of the series, too.

The Celtics’ captain scored seven points in the last 3 1/2

minutes of the second quarter and added nine more in the first 5

minutes of the third. Ray Allen, who hasn’t hit a 3-pointer since

making an NBA-record eight in Game 2, made a pair of baskets that

gave Boston a 71-58 lead with 3:08 left in the third.

Jackson, wearing a microphone for the TV broadcast, told his

players during a late timeout, “This team loses more games in the

fourth quarter than any team in the league. They know how to lose

games, and they’re showing us that now.”

The Lakers got within six points several times, but never within

five until Bryant made three free throws to make it 87-82 with 90

seconds left.

The Celtics got a break from a review when replays showed

Allen’s 3-pointer barely nicked the rim, giving them the ball with

a fresh 24 seconds and 1:05 left. Rasheed Wallace missed a

3-pointer, but the rebound wound up tied up between the 6-foot-11

Garnett and 6-foot-1 Derek Fisher.

Fisher won the jump ball, tipping the ball ahead to Ron Artest

for a breakaway; Pierce fouled him to keep him from scoring an easy

layup, and he missed both free throws. Bryant grabbed the rebound,

but Pierce ripped it out of his arms and dribbled off to the side

to call timeout.

A desperate inbound pass went to Pierce, who fed Rondo under the

basket before falling out of bounds, and Rondo made an

over-the-head layup to make it 89-82 with 36 seconds left.

“I was just showing off my Randy Moss and my (Tom) Brady the

whole play,” Pierce said. “I was Randy when I caught it; then

Brady on my pass to Rondo.”

Bryant missed a series of desperation 3-pointers down the

stretch, and when Allen made two free throws with 19 seconds left

and Garnett one of two with 8.9 to play, it was over.

“He’s the best shot-maker in the game. There’s probably better

athletes and all that, but there’s no better shot-maker than Kobe

Bryant,” Rivers said. “You’ve just got to live with it and play

through it.”

Pau Gasol scored 12 points with 12 rebounds and Fisher, the Game

3 star, scored all nine of his points in the first quarter as no

other Laker reached double figures in scoring until Gasol hit a

free throw with 2:25 left. Andrew Bynum played on his sore right

knee for 31 minutes, but he scored all six of his points and his

only rebound in the first quarter.

NOTES: Of the 25 finals that have been tied at 2-all, the winner

of Game 5 has won 19 of them. … Rondo was called for a technical

foul in the second quarter when he pushed Artest in retaliation for

a hard foul on Garnett. Artest embellished the shove, but got the

call. … Celebrities in the crowd: sprinter Usain Bolt, actress

Eliza Dushku, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and singers Glen

Frey and Jimmy Buffett, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard

and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.