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Celtics Win in a Game of Me vs. We

The Celtics defeated Kobe Bryant in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, 92-86.

Several other Lakers attended.

It’s been an NBA story for almost as long as there’s been an NBA: the team in white, playing on the home parquet in Boston, winning a crucial playoff game against the individual effort of the finest offensive player of his generation.

They did it to Wilt in the '60s, to Kareem in Milwaukee in the '70s, and to Kobe two years ago. And they’ll do it again in Game 6 or 7 if Los Angeles displays the same kind of lopsided offense it showed on Sunday night.

Kobe Bryant finally went off in the Finals, scoring 38 points, 28 in a second-half outburst that included eight straight field goals, the last a three-pointer from Harvard Square. In the first six minutes of the third quarter, Kobe scored 17, and took every L.A. shot but one. The Lakers didn’t get a point from anyone else until Pau Gasol scored with 2:16 left in the quarter. For all of Kobe’s shooting brilliance, however, the Boston halftime lead of eight never fell below seven in the period, as Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and especially Paul Pierce combined to offset Bryant’s efforts. 

It was Pierce’s turn to be the designated hero for the Celtics. He had 26 points through three quarters, adding just one free throw in the fourth, but made two critical plays in the final minute that helped seal the victory. First, after Ron Artest missed the second of two free throws with Boston up five and 0:43 left on the clock, Pierce wrestled the rebound away from a crashing Kobe Bryant, then dribbled it free to the sideline where he called time out. With four seconds to get the ball across midcourt, Pierce streaked upcourt away from the inbounder, Garnett, who threw him a high pass that Pierce grabbed away from Derek Fisher. Pierce turned, landed facing the basket, and immediately whipped a pass to a streaking Rajon Rondo, who made the layup at full speed ahead of Artest.

Rondo, who scored 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting, continued to make a quartet out of Boston’s Big Three, despite his playoff-high seven turnovers. In addition to the lay-in off the pass from Pierce, Rondo soared over Kobe and Lamar Odom for a tip-in off a Pierce miss with four minutes to go that stretched the Boston lead to 12. He made the heady foul in the last minute on Ron Artest’s breakaway that prevented a layup and put Artest on the line for the miss that Pierce rebounded. And he challenged Artest with a little shove in the second quarter after Artest knocked Garnett down with a two-handed Elaine Benes to the chest.  

Fisher, the fourth-quarter star of Game 3 for the Lakers, took just four shots over the last three quarters, missing them all. Andrew Bynum had six points in the first quarter, then took one more shot in the rest of the game, contributing zero defensive rebounds in 32 minutes. Gasol had several shots blocked, but was the only Laker besides Kobe to reach double figures in points or shots. 

The Lakers will get an earful from Phil Jackson about all the uncontested shots they allowed the Celtics, who hit 65 percent from the floor over the first three quarters. They’ll also need a reawakening from Fisher or Lamar Odom on the offensive end, because Boston has taken Kobe’s best Sunday punch and remains standing. 

It’s been a compelling series between two ancient rivals who have developed a healthy dislike for each other over eleven Finals games in the last three years. It’s a series the NBA needed after the generally lackluster first three rounds of the playoffs. The Finals resume in Los Angeles Tuesday night. Since the adoption of the 2-3-2 format in 1985, six teams have returned home for the last two games trailing 3-2. Two of them, the '88 Lakers and the ’94 Rockets, won the sixth game and the series. History favors the Celtics over the Lakers, but then, doesn’t it always?

Jeff Neuman is a sportswriter and editor, and co-author of A Disorderly Compendium of Golf. His columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday.

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