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Bryant defensive after starring role

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / June 14, 2010

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The Kobe Bryant Show left behind a supporting cast of Lakers who did nothing more than make the sides even at times last night at TD Garden.

While Bryant handled a majority of the Lakers scoring, the defensive effort came up short as the Celtics rolled to a 92-86 victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals and pulled within one victory of their 18th championship.

As a team the Lakers shot 39 percent (31 of 78). Bryant scored a game-high 38 points, 19 of which came during a scoring clinic in the third quarter. But Bryant couldn’t do it alone. It seemed for every shot Bryant made, the Celtics were able to sprint down the court and drain two baskets.

Bryant scored 23 straight points for the Lakers from late in the second quarter to midway through the third quarter. But in that stretch the Celtics turned a 1-point deficit into a 9-point lead.

The Celtics shot 56.3 percent from the field, and for the second straight game a bad stretch in the second half doomed the Lakers.

“I just thought defensively we weren’t very good at all,’’ Bryant said. “Last game it was the fourth quarter, this game it was the third quarter. We didn’t get any stops. They got layup after layup after layup, and you can’t survive a team that shoots 56 percent. We’re normally a great defensive team.’’

Bryant was the only member of the Lakers in double figures until the 2:25 mark of the fourth quarter, when Pau Gasol scored his 10th point of the night on a free throw. By then the Lakers were trailing, 87-78, and looking for any opportunity to stay in the game. Gasol was held to 2 points in the first half and was the victim of a pair of Kevin Garnett blocks.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he didn’t think Gasol had many opportunities in the first half but his troubles could have been a result of Garnett’s defense.

“You know, until I see the [game film] edit, I can’t make a comment on what happened out there, whether he was tentative or whether he had good defensive plays made against him,’’ Jackson said. “I thought [Garnett] made a couple good defensive plays.’’

The discrepancy in play was not because of a lack of effort, Jackson said.

“I don’t think it was lack of effort as much as being prepared for what they thought, what they could do when they came out,’’ Jackson said.

In the first half, 11 Celtics turnovers and free throws helped the Lakers hang around. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers cut the deficit to 87-82 with 1:30 to go, but Ron Artest missed two key free throws late that could have made it a one-possession game.

Back-to-back losses follow the Lakers back to Los Angeles, where the Celtics can clinch tomorrow night at Staples Center. If there were any lingering emotion from the Lakers losing the NBA Finals to the Celtics in 2008, Bryant didn’t want to hear about it.

“Just man up and play,’’ Bryant said. “What the hell is the big deal? I don’t see it as a big deal. 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.’’

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