Celtics team up on Bryant, head to LA with advantage
The degree of difficulty seemed to increase with every shot Kobe Bryant took. At one point, even Paul Pierce couldn’t believe it.
Bryant was in the middle of his outburst in the third quarter when the ball swung his way 27 feet from the rim. He was well out of any normal shooter’s range, but Pierce knows Bryant isn’t a normal shooter.
Bryant fired a shot that split the rim for 3 of 19 straight points he scored for the Lakers in the third quarter (23 stretching to the first half).
“I would say it was the toughest shot that I’ve ever seen somebody hit while I was on the court,’’ Pierce said.
Making the latest stop on his free agent tour, Dwyane Wade watched from his courtside seat at TD Garden, shaking his head in disbelief.
But at that point, the Lakers were down, 64-56, and Bryant was trying to beat the Celtics by himself. If anybody knew what Bryant was dealing with, it was Wade. He was the first superstar the Celtics denied this postseason. Bryant simply is the latest.
Bryant finished with 38 points but fell to the same fate as Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard. His individual onslaught wasn’t enough to offset the sum of the Celtics’ parts.
From Pierce’s 27 points to Kevin Garnett’s 18-point, 10-rebound, 5-steal performance to Rajon Rondo’s 18 points and eight assists, the Celtics had options in their 92-86 Game 5 win last night, where the Lakers’ only option was Bryant.
Now up three games to two in the NBA Finals, the Celtics have two chances to seal the series in Los Angeles, starting with Game 6 at Staples Center tomorrow.
Doc Rivers’s mantra as the Celtics faced superstar after superstar in the postseason was that at some point, a monstrous game would be inevitable, and the Celtics would have to find a way to win. Last night, to get his team to resist the urge to fight off the one-man army that was Bryant, Rivers reminded his team that the key words were “one man.’’
“What we talked about before the game, you could see they wanted to change the defense, they wanted to start trapping, and I just tried to keep telling them, it’s only 2 points each time he scores,’’ Rivers said. “It’s not 10. It’s just like if someone else was scoring. As long as we were going to keep scoring the way we were scoring, we were going to be good. But it makes you question your defense because he was terrific.’’
Pierce was the Celtics’ answer for Bryant, particularly in the third quarter, when he scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. The difference, though, was Pierce had reinforcements. The Celtics shot 56.3 percent from the floor. Bryant went 13 for 27 but while he went on his tear, his teammates seemed to go missing (a combined 18 of 51). Pierce did not see it as a game of one-on-one.
“As far as Kobe going at it, I wasn’t in no personal duel with him,’’ Pierce said. “I really didn’t even take the notice that we were going, I guess, back and forth at the time. I’m out there trying to help my ball club to win. Kobe is doing what he does for his ball club. He has to score the ball night in and night out. He makes tough shots, and he’s a proven winner. I wasn’t in the one-on-one deal with Kobe at all.’’
The Celtics clinched the game by connecting the dots with three of their stars.
Up 5 points with less than a minute left, Garnett launched an inbounds pass to Pierce, who toed the sideline while bumping Derek Fisher before heaving the ball into the paint to Rondo for a layup that made it 89-82 Celtics, putting the game out of reach.
“It was like about three or four seconds on the out of bounds before he got the violation, and I just went up and caught it,’’ Pierce said. “I know I was on the sideline falling out, and I turned and I saw Rondo streaking and I was able to get it to him and he made a great play. We didn’t have to shoot the ball, I was a little nervous when he shot it but he made a great play.’’
With their first lead of the series, the Celtics will have to win the series on the road, where they were one of the best teams in the league in the regular season .
“This was the biggest game of the year,’’ Pierce said. “Now, every game gets bigger. Great opportunity for us, got two games in LA, we’ve just got to get one. I think we’ve been a great road team all year. We’re just going to try to get it done.’’