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The Celtics quickly erased the deficit when Pierce hit a jumper on his team’s first possession of the second half and then came back down the court to drill a 3-pointer while drawing a foul. Pierce converted on the four-point play to give Boston a 52-51 edge.

But with 6:49 left in the third quarter, Boston received a scare when Pierce left the game with a sprained knee. Pierce collided with center Kendrick Perkins under the Lakers’ basket and then tumbled to the baseline clutching his right knee. Pierce had to be carried off the court and rode to the locker room in a wheelchair.

“I heard a pop in my knee and felt all this pain and grabbed it,” Pierce said. “I thought I tore something. I thought that was it. But once we got in the back, felt on it, stood on my two feet, felt some pain on the inside but did some lateral moves. Once I felt like I could put weight on it I had to get back out there and help my ballclub. In the finals, that’s what it’s all about.”

But a minute and a half later, Pierce emerged from the tunnel leading from the locker room wearing a Spandex brace on his right knee and took the court to deafening cheers.

“When he came back, he played his best,” Garnett said. “He rejuvenated us to the point where he gave everybody life.”

The Celtics took a 68-64 lead, but once again, couldn’t maintain it and the Lakers went up 69-68 when Bryant received an alley-oop pass from Fisher and threw down a reverse dunk with just under three minutes left in the third quarter.

Bryant came back down the court with a fade-away jumper that extended the lead to three points.

But Pierce made his back-to-back 3-pointers to put Boston back up 77-71 with 1:04 left in the quarter. Bryant closed out the third quarter with a pair of free throws, trimming the Celtics’ lead to four.

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