- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES | Kobe Bryant refused to let the Los Angeles Lakers acquiesce to the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center Tuesday night.

Bryant, in receiving only perfunctory help from his teammates, finished with 36 points and seven rebounds to lead the Lakers past the Celtics 87-81 and restore life to the best-of-seven series.

It was no work of art on the part of the Lakers. They missed 13 free throws, committed 12 turnovers and shot 43.5 percent from the field.

“It was not a beautiful game,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I think that was a product of the series moving from the East Coast to the West Coast and having only one day off.”

Jackson noted the dominance of Bryant on both ends of the floor. It was Bryant who chased Paul Pierce for long stretches, and Pierce´s stat line reflected that.

“I think undoubtedly it was the leadership of Kobe Bryant out there,” Jackson said. “He was aggressive right from the start. We stayed aggressive out there even after they caught up to us, and Kobe was instrumental in that.”

Ray Allen led the Celtics with 25 points. Kevin Garnett struggled on the offensive end, and Pierce, playing in the biggest game of his career in his hometown, was locked in the defensive vise of Bryant. Pierce converted only two of 14 field goal attempts. Pierce and Garnett combined to make only eight of 35 field goal attempts.

At times, the Lakers appeared overly reliant on Bryant, who kept the Lakers afloat through much of the game with a variety of nifty scoring maneuvers.

Lamar Odom, who was called “confused” by Jackson after Game 2, seemed in no better mental state. He succumbed to early foul trouble and was a nonfactor, one of the troubling omens before the Lakers.

Pau Gasol was equally inept. Other than Sasha Vujacic´s crisp shooting that resulted in 20 points, the Lakers were often reduced to Bryant´s scoring binges and the hope that those would be enough.

Vujacic´s 3-pointer with 1:53 left staggered the Celtics as the Lakers pushed their lead to five points.

“We call him Rock Head,” Jackson said. “He is an incredibly confident player.”

Vujacic laughed off the nickname, as the Lakers could in victory.

“I´m stubborn,” Vujacic said. “But that is what has got me to where I am.”

As sharp as Bryant was in solving the defense of the Celtics, he was almost Shaquille O´Neal-like with his free throw shooting, missing seven of his first 16 attempts.

Jackson´s concern with the free throw discrepancy that favored the Celtics in Game 2 was corrected to the advantage of the Lakers, as expected.

Celtics Doc Rivers dismissed the notion the correction came because of Jackson´s comments after Game 2.

“They played harder, and they deserved to go the line,” he said.

Yet Rivers couldn´t help but let it be known he was disturbed by Jackson´s dissection of the referees after Game 2.

Told that Jackson said Garnett looked fatigued in the fourth quarter, Rivers said, “I´m just surprised he did not whine about the referees tonight.”

It was an uphill climb for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, with the Celtics clinging to a slight advantage in the early going.

“I thought they were the more aggressive team for the most part,” Rivers said. “I thought Kobe was fantastic, but I thought Sasha was the key to the game.”

The plastic people came out in en masse, as only they can to a big event, looking to be seen during the Lakers´ first appearance at home in the NBA Finals since 2004. Hugh Hefner, with a woman one-third his age, posed for pictures at one baseline. The woman wore sunglasses, the requisite fashion accessory of the stars.

The buzz in the air was unmistakable, the mood festive before the tipoff. The supporters of the Lakers did not seem the least bit worried about their team´s 2-0 deficit in the series. And Bryant, the MVP of the NBA this season, made it happen for the Lakers.

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