Celtics Handle Kobe Onslaught, Take Lead

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Paul Pierce helped the Celtics take a 3-2 lead in the NBA finals on Sunday night, and now he heads back to hometown, where a second NBA championship could be waiting for him.

Pierce, a Los Angeles native who has played his entire career with the rival Celtics, scored 27 points to help Boston withstand 38 points from Kobe Bryant to beat the Lakers 92-86. This moves the team within one victory of an unprecedented 18th NBA title.

Game 6 is Tuesday night, and a victory then or in Game 7 in L.A. on Thursday would give Pierce the chance to celebrate in the city where he grew up.

"It's going to have to happen if we're going to win the title," Pierce said. "I mean, that would be great. I'm not going to try to jinx it right now. We've got to win one game; that's the goal. But it would be amazing if we get it done."
In a weekend where "Beat L.A!" chants echoed in Boston, including at the Red Sox v. Phillies games, the call was heard through the TD Garden as Kevin Garnett scored 18 points with 10 rebounds and Rajon Rondo had 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

Bryant said neither the rivalry nor revenge should be motivating his teammates when they try to stave off elimination at home.

"Just man up and play. What the hell is the big deal?" he said. "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."

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

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.

"I wasn't in a personal duel," Pierce said. "I didn't notice that we were going back-and-forth scoring at the time. He's a tough player. He makes shots."

Bryant scored 23 straight Lakers points between the 4:23 mark of the second quarter until there was 2:16 left in the third. But over that span, the Celtics expanded the lead from one point to 13.

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

The Celtics' captain scored seven points in the last 3½ 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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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