LOS ANGELES | The Los Angeles Lakers survived a plethora of boneheaded plays and a bad case of matador defense on Paul Pierce to defeat the Boston Celtics 103-98 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center on Sunday night.
The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 with Game 6 scheduled in Boston on Tuesday night.
The Lakers overcame a subpar Kobe Bryant and the 38-point assault of Pierce, who seemingly was able to drive to the basket at will.
Pierce also had eight assists and six rebounds to best Bryant in their duel.
Bryant made only eight of 21 field goal attempts in finishing with 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The game-turning play in the final minute came about after Bryant poked the ball from Pierce in the open court. Replays showed a foul could have been called against Bryant.
As it was, Derek Fisher picked up the loose ball and threw an outlet pass to a streaking Bryant, who finished the play with a dunk to put the Lakers up 99-95 with 37 seconds left.
“I was kind of reading the play and was able to get a hand on the ball and get the dunk,” Bryant said. “We probably have to play better [in Boston].”
The Lakers still endured a few anxious moments from there but managed to send the series back to Boston.
As Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “We played hard but not smart all the time.”
The Lakers managed to stave off elimination by getting significant contributions from their two principal suspects, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
Each player fashioned a double-double: Odom 20 points and 11 rebounds, Gasol 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“I thought Pau was aggressive, made some real good plays out there,” Jackson said. “Lamar had one of those games in which one of our writers was questioning his ability to rebound and come back. But Lamar is very resilient and showed that.”
Odom converted a 3-pointer with 11:05 left to give the Lakers an 84-72 lead and a sigh of relief following a stretch of uncertainty early in the third quarter.
“I tried to stay focused throughout the game,” Odom said. “Last game, I felt like I didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.”