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Dan Shaughnessy

No party on the coast

Lakers hold off Celtics, send series back to Boston

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / June 16, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Celtics fans who've waited 22 years for another banner will have to wait a little longer.

The 62d NBA championship will be won in the New Boston Garden. The Lakers made this a certainty last night with a 103-98 victory over the Celtics at Staples Center.

Tomorrow night, the Celtics will be playing a record 26th playoff game and have all the numbers on their side. No NBA team has blown a 3-1 lead in the Finals. No road team has won Games 6 and 7 in the Finals. The Celtics are 12-1 on Causeway Street in the tournament this year.

They can win banner No. 17 on June 17. Havlicek squared. Tomorrow.

It certainly felt like they were going to do it last night. The Larry O'Brien Trophy was in the house and fans at Staples feared they were watching another El Foldo-by-Freeway 101. The Lakers blew a 19-point first-half lead, then blew a 14-point lead in the fourth. It was a tie game with 4:35 to play, but Kobe Bryant (25 points) took back the night for the Western Conference champs.

The key play came when Bryant slapped the ball away from Paul Pierce (38 points), then scored on a breakaway dunk (nice pass from Lamar Odom) to make it 99-95 with 37.4 seconds left.

LA earned its reputation as a soft-shell team with pushover fans while blowing a 24-point lead in Game 4. The Lakers were battered by the national media and most of their own constituents after the debacle and it would have been easy to roll over and die last night rather than force another round trip to Boston.

No. With Sylvester Stallone at courtside, the Lakers finally demonstrated some eye of the tiger. They got up and punched back after they were knocked down.

Getting contributions from Pau Gasol (19 points) and Lamar Odom (20), the Lakers did what the home team is supposed to do.

Kevin Garnett missed three free throws and the Celtics went more than four minutes without a basket.

And to think there could have been a trophy presentation. It'll have to wait. Commissioner David Stern recalled presenting the O'Brien trophy to the Celtics in the steamy Boston Garden more than 20 years ago.

"I was in the middle of a speech when Red motioned toward the trophy and said, 'Gimme that thing!' It was great. Very funny. He was the best."

The Celtics were ready for a little history. Pierce carried a video recorder on the bus ride to Staples Center. The captain wanted to tape everything for posterity.

"[The Celtics] were focused," said Cedric Maxwell, MVP of the Finals in 1981. "Kevin Garnett was saying this might wind up being their best 48 minutes of the year."

It wasn't. Especially for Garnett (13 points).

In a start that was remarkably similar to Game 4, the Lakers ran the Celtics out of the gym in the first quarter. LA shot 65 percent (15 for 23) and bolted to a 39-22 lead after one. The Celtics clearly missed the inside presence of Kendrick Perkins, who did not play because of a shoulder injury.

No doubt there were New Englanders saying "got 'em right where we want 'em," when the Celtics fell far behind. And they were right.

Los Angeles opened up a 19-point lead at the start of the second. The margin was down to 9 when Garnett was forced to the bench with three fouls midway.

Playing without their defensive captain, the Celtics kept cutting into the lead. Tony Allen, who played only two minutes in the first four games, came off the bench to score 6 points in the second quarter. P.J. Brown played 17 minutes 24 seconds of the first half.

A 3-pointer from out top by Pierce made it 55-52 at intermission. It was as close as the Celtics had been since 5-2 and had everyone at Staples worried about another fold.

A free throw by Pierce put the Celtics ahead by a point with 9:59 left in the third.

Not this time. Led by Gasol and Bryant, the Lakers regained the lead and it was 79-70 at the end of three. Early in the fourth, LA led, 88-74. The Celtics started to apply pressure. A three by James Posey capped a 12-2 run and the Laker lead was trimmed to 4 with under six minutes left.

It was 90-90 with 4:35 remaining. That's when the Celtics' offense went stale and Garnett started missing free throws.

So the Celtics and their fans will have to wait another day. Or two. Or four.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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