Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before Game 5 that at some point during the Finals, his team would have to beat the Lakers in a game during which Kobe Bryant went off.
Bryant scored 19 straight points for the Lakers to start the third quarter Sunday night, but in a microcosm of Rivers's prediction, the Celtics increased their halftime lead by five points during Bryant's otherworldly run. In the ultimate showing of "Ubuntu", five was better than one as the Celtics beat the Lakers 92-86 at TD Garden to take a 3-2 series lead in the 2010 NBA Finals.
"It felt like more," Rivers said of Bryant's scoring run. "We had to use a timeout to settle our guys down. 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 two points each time he scores. It's not ten. 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."
Bryant's run of consecutive Laker points actually extended to 23 counting the end of the first half, but by the time Pau Gasol chipped in a bucket with 2:16 left in the third, the Lakers found a six-point halftime deficit had ballooned to 11. Five Celtics players scored in the quarter, led by Pierce, who did his best to match Bryant with 11 points in the frame.
The Lakers cut the lead to eight points at the end of the third, and the lead was down to six on Lamar Odom's putback with 6:01 remaining in the fourth. But it was a putback by Rajon Rondo that put the Celtics back in control for good. With 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter, Rondo jumped over Gasol and Odom and stretched his arm to the sky, batting the ball back toward the rim. The ball clanked off the top of the rim, touched the backboard, and fell through the net, giving the Celtics an 87-75 lead.
Any reasonably close game featuring Bryant is not over, and the Lakers superstar did his best to keep the game close. With 1:30 remaining, Bryant drew a foul on Ray Allen while attempting a three-pointer. The free throws --the last of Bryant's 38 points -- cut the Celtics lead to 87-82.
The Celtics led by the same score when Kevin Garnett found himself in a jump-ball situation with Lakers guard Derek Fisher. Giving up almost a foot to Garnett, Fisher somehow won the jump, resulting in a breakout for Ron Artest. Paul Pierce fouled Artest on his layup attempt, and Artest missed both free throws, preventing the Lakers from closing to within one possession. The Lakers would get no closer the rest of the way.
"Ron had an opportunity," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "An unusual situation Fish elevated, beat Garnett to the ball on a tip, which is kind of unusual, and they weren't ready for the run out. But we couldn't make the play on that."
The Celtics led Game 5 throughout, but both teams had areas of improvement to focus on after the first quarter. The Lakers trailed by just two points despite shooting 33 percent in the first, while the Celtics held the lead despite not attempting a free throw. Kevin Garnett played possibly his best quarter of basketball in the Finals, putting up 6 points and 5 rebounds in a productive 10:21 on the floor.
"He's one of those guys that just does a lot of stuff for your team and a lot of it goes unnoticed," said Rivers. "But tonight on the stats sheet it doesn't."
As they did in the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Celtics bench injected a little energy into the building at the start of the second quarter Sunday night. The bench was off and running when Glen Davis found Tony Allen ahead of the field for a layup at the 8:54 mark, giving the Celtics a 30-22 lead. But unlike in Game 4, Rivers went back to his starters quickly, spelling Nate Robinson after five minutes and Davis after eight minutes.
The starters picked up where the bench left off to close out the quarter. The Celtics got a vintage first half from Paul Pierce, who had 15 points on a dizzying array of pivots and pull-ups.
"Paul was terrific," said Rivers. "He attacked all night. He did it through the offense, he did it through isos, he did it in pick and rolls, he made big shots for us. He has a great rhythm right now, and we need it."
The Celtics also had to like their defense on Bryant before halftime. Boston surrounded Bryant every time he touched the ball, forcing the Lakers superstar into 4 of 12 shooting. But despite Pierce's play and Boston's defense on Bryant, the Celtics led just 45-39 after a strange first half. The Lakers shot 33 percent but were only down six despite the Celtics shooting 66 percent. The Celtics shot just two free throws in the first half and shot themselves in the foot with 11 turnovers.
Pierce led the Celtics with 27 points in Game 5, while Garnett finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
All but written off after going down 2-1 in the series, the Celtics --the NBA's best road team in the playoffs -- now have two chances to clinch the NBA championship in Los Angeles. Game 6 is Tuesday night at 9 p.m.
"Bottom line is when they won Game 3, from that point on we felt every next game is a must game," said Rivers. "We've had the same, each game is Game 7. We said it in Game 4, we said it again today, and we'll say it again. That's how we have to approach the game."
Final: Celtics 92, Lakers 86 No more time on the clock. The Celtics head back to LA with a 3-2 series lead.
35.2 4th quarter, Celtics 89-82: Rondo takes a feed from Pierce and reverses the ball in. A dangerous play all around, but Pierce and Rondo turned it into a crucial two points. Any more magic left from Kobe?
43.3 4th quarter, Celtics 87-82: Kevin Garnett loses a jump ball to Derek Fisher, resulting in a wide open lane for Ron Artest. Luckily for the Celtics, Artest misses both free throws. Huge, huge turn of events.
1:30 4th quarter, Celtics 87-82: Ray Allen fouls Bryant shooting a three. Kobe makes three free-throws. It's a two-possession game now.
1:41 4th quarter, Celtics 87-79: A rebounding foul on Perkins sends Artest to the line for two. Ron makes the first, then Gasol picks up a rebounding foul and sends Perkins back the other way for two. Perkins misses both. Strange sequence.
2:55 4th quarter, Celtics 87-75: Pierce baits Bryant into his fifth personal foul and Kobe doesn't get out of the way in time.
6:01 4th quarter, Celtics 81-75: It's getting chippy and it's getting close. Pierce thought he was going to get contact driving to the hoop and didn't, missing a bunny. Lamar Odom scored on the other end and this one if far from over.
We also just witnessed a strange sequence of fouls: double-fouls on Ray Allen and Derek Fisher, then consecutive offensive fouls on Kendrick Perkins and Andrew Bynum. Might have been better if none of those fouls were called at all.
8:25 4th quarter, Celtics 78-69: Pierce goes down hard on a foul from Bryant, who on the replay appeared to grab Pierce's head and throw him to the floor. Everything's going to be earned from this point on.
Pierce is only the second Celtic to go to the free throw line all game.
9:21 4th quarter, Celtics 78-69: Key minutes for Nate Robinson here. He just has to get to Rondo with the lead to close out the game.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 73-65: Bryant's scoring run ends at 23 consecutive points for the Lakers. The Celtics let the Lakers back into the game at the end of the quarter. A single-digit lead certainly doesn't feel safe.
5:33 3d quarter, Celtics 64-56: Bryant has scored all 17 points from the Lakers this quarter and 21 in a row going back to the first half.
7:37 3d quarter, Celtics 60-49: The Celtics withstood a 10-point run by Kobe Bryant and still increased their lead to 11 points. Pierce is now 10 of 13 for 22 points. This is exactly what Doc Rivers said the Celtics had to do before the game: Win a game when Kobe Bryant goes off.
8:06 3d quarter, Celtics 56-49: The Celtics have come out firing, but so has Kobe Bryant. Bryant's scored 10 straight points for the Lakers.
Halftime, Celtics 45-39: A vintage first half from Paul Pierce, who has 15 points on a dizzying array of pivots and pull-ups. The other thing the Celtics have to love is their defense on Kobe Bryant. Boston is surrounding Bryant every time he touches the ball, and Kobe is still trying to do too much. He's 4 of 12.
Some weirdness in the first half: The Lakers shot 33 percent but are only down six despite the Celtics shooting 66 percent. The Celtics are killing themselves with 11 turnovers. The Celtics also shot just two free throws in the first half.
2:42 2d quarter, Celtics 41-37: Kobe Bryant put the Lakers up 37-36, but the Celtics came right back with a run of their own to wrest the momentum back from Los Angeles. Paul Pierce's three-pointer gives him 11 points on the night.
4:42 2d quarter, Celtics 34-31: Rajon Rondo gives Ron Artest a little shove and picks up a technical foul.
6:20 2d quarter, Celtics 32-28: Rasheed Wallace comes out of the game after playing unbelievable interior defense against the Lakers. 'Sheed is bringing it tonight.
7:32 2d quarter, Celtics 30-26: This isn't going to be like the end of Game 4. Rajon Rondo is back in a hurry to spell Nate Robinson.
8:46 2d quarter, Celtics 30-22: There's that Celtics bench again. Rasheed Wallace blocked Lamar Odom and Glen Davis picked up the ball, lobbing a perfect pass to Tony Allen, who was ahead of the field for a lay-up. This crew is instant energy.
END 1st quarter, Celtics 22-20: Both teams should be happy with this start. The Lakers shot 33 percent but find themselves down by just two. The Celtics, meanwhile, haven't attempted any free throws and still have the lead. The Lakers obviously need to shoot better, and the Celtics need to take the ball inside and earn a few trips to the line.
1:31 1st quarter, Celtics 20-18: Kevin Garnett sits down with 6 points and 5 rebounds. Huge work on the boars from KG.
3:36 1st quarter, Celtics 18-15: Kendrick Perkins had the right idea dribbling the ball up the floor to start the break, but he took one dribble too many, plowing into Kobe Bryant. Perkins was called for the charge.
4:58 1st quarter, Celtics 14-12: Paul Pierce fouls Derek Fisher on a three-point attempt. Pierce walked down the sideline screaming "No" and walked right past Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who screamed back "Yes." Three free-throws coming for Fisher.
6:21 1st quarter, Tied at 10: This game is moving quickly. Not a single foul called on the Lakers so far.
10:01 1st quarter, Celtics 6-0: Great defense by the Celtics, forcing the Lakers into tough shots. The Lakers are 0 for 5.
Pregame: The Boston Pops with a stirring rendition of the national anthem. If you can't get pumped up after that there's something wrong. "Beat LA" chants are filling the arena.