Paul Pierce Scores 27 Points, Celtics One Win From 18th NBA Title

Paul Pierce Scores 27 Points, Celtics One Win From 18th NBA Title BOSTON — It's looking a lot like
2008 again, with Paul Pierce carrying the Boston Celtics to victory in
the NBA finals and leading them to the brink of yet another title.

Pierce scored 27 points — his best
performance of this year's finals — and the Celtics withstood 38 points
from Kobe Bryant to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 92-86 on Sunday night
and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Los
Angeles, and a victory then or in Game 7 in L.A. on Thursday would give
the Celtics a record 18th NBA championship.

"We've got to get one. We're too close
to our goal," Pierce said. "We've got to get one."

Pierce was the MVP of the '08 finals,
when the new Big Three beat the Lakers to raise an NBA-record 17th
banner to the rafters at Boston's TD Garden. Bryant was the finals MVP
last year, when the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic to win their 15th
championship.

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.

"He's the kind of guy (where) you ride
the hot hand, that's for sure," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We
were waiting for him to do that. … He went out there and found a
rhythm."

With the "Beat L.A!" chant returning
to the 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, dating back to a 4-0 sweep over the
Minneapolis Lakers in 1959.

"It's basically home-court,
home-court," Jackson said. "That's the way it's supposed to be, isn't
it?"

Bryant did everything he could to
keep the Lakers in it.

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 that's also the time when the Celtics built their
biggest lead: over that span, they expanded the lead from one point to
13.

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

And he also had help.

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.

But the Lakers were confident.

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, tipping the ball ahead to
Ron Artest for a breakaway; he was fouled, and he missed both free
throws. This time Bryant grabbed the rebound, but Pierce ripped it out
of his arms and dribbled off to the side to call timeout.

A desperate inbounds 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.

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.

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.

The Celtics bench, which was the star
of a 96-89 victory in Game 4 on Thursday, helped them extend the lead
to 30-22 early in the second quarter. The Lakers came back to take a
37-36 lead on Bryant's basket with 3:58 left in the half, but Pierce
answered with a 3-pointer and two late jumpers for a 45-39 advantage at
the break.

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.

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