- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES | The Boston Celtics sucked the life out of the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA Finals at Staples Center on Thursday night.

The Celtics subjected the Lakers to a cruel and humiliating ordeal by overcoming a 24-point deficit to win Game 4 97-91 and take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Lakers have until Game 5 here Sunday night to rue the one that slipped away. Or rue how they let up on the Celtics and kicked it away and kicked away a chance to be the NBA champions this season.

That distinction now appears headed to the Celtics, who, if they do not close out the Lakers in Game 5, have the prospect of Games 6 and 7 being on their homecourt.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his team remained hopeful of making a comeback because of a mini-scoring run in the first half.

“I think it let us know that we could make a run,” he said. “Our guys just didn’t give up. It was nothing I did. They had enough mental toughness to hang in there. I am thrilled with the win, and it was a great comeback. But you don’t get [the championship] for it.”

Asked how it felt to be on the verge of a championship, Rivers said, “I don’t feel it yet. Let’s win one more first.”

Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Ray Allen had 19 points, none more hurtful than his layup with 16.4 seconds left that left Sasha Vujacic grasping at air.

James Posey contributed 18 points off the bench, Eddie House 11.

“Some turnaround,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after taking a seat at the interview table.

Jackson did not try to minimize the emotional hit to the Lakers.

“They are very depressed about it,” he said. “It’s very difficult. We just have to emphasize that anything can happen in these situations.”

Pierce said the Celtics came out of the locker room after halftime and decided not to look at the scoreboard.

“We just wanted to compete,” he said. “We just wanted to play hard. I knew we wouldn’t lay down, because that is not something we’ve done this season.”

Pierce said this one won’t soon be forgotten.

“It’s definitely a great one,” he said. “It’s one you put in your library case and pop out to watch from time to time. But we’re not quite there yet, and that is what is on my mind — getting the championship.”

The Lakers held a 45-21 lead after Vujacic connected on a 3-pointer with 6:45 left in the first half. At that point, the Lakers appeared well on their way to an easy night of work.

This was no Kobe Bryant show, although he did his part to facilitate the early onslaught with six assists and four steals in the first half.

This is how easy it was for the Lakers at one point: Bryant attempted only four field goal attempts in the first half and made none, but the Lakers had an 18-point lead.

This is how good the Lakers felt at one point: Jordan Farmar drove the length of the court with 5.2 seconds left in the first half and made a running bank shot from beyond the 3-point line.

Even Lamar Odom emerged from his “confused” state, as Jackson termed his listless play earlier in the series, and made significant contributions.

And yet it was not enough to quell the uprising of the visitors in green, staggered though they were at times in the first half.

Improbably, the Celtics ignored the one-sidedness of the game. They ignored the hostile crowd. They ignored the prevailing sense that it was time to look ahead to Game 5.

The Celtics pulled even with the Lakers in the fourth quarter behind the industriousness of Pierce, who finally elected to join the team on the West Coast portion of the series.

The Celtics then took their first lead of the game at 84-83 on House’s jumper with 4:07 left. They then closed on a 13-8 scoring run to take control of the series.

“It’s a dream if I can come out and win on Sunday,” said Pierce, who grew up in nearby Inglewood. “I don’t even know what to think about. I don’t want to get overly excited right now over one win.”

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