- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008

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.”

A jumper by Luke Walton pushed the Lakers´ advantage to 88-74 with 9:18 left before the Celtics made one last push, this one falling short.

“We wanted to go back home, but we didn´t want to be playing,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “You know what I mean? But we are going home to play, and that is not a bad place to be.”

Just as they did in Game 4, the Lakers threatened to overwhelm the Celtics early. Sasha Vujacic´s jump shot with 11:08 left in the second quarter pushed the Lakers´ lead to 43-24, which the Celtics took as a signal to awake from their slumber.

With Pierce scoring 21 points in the first half, the Celtics undid most of the Lakers´ early good work to trail 55-52 at halftime.

The Celtics made their push with Kevin Garnett spending all but 13 seconds on the bench in foul trouble and the Lakers going nearly seven minutes without scoring a point.

“I went in at halftime and said, “Thank God we don´t have a lead,´ ” Jackson said. “It’s important we don’t have something like that because we just don´t know what to do with it anyway.”

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins was an 11th-hour scratch before Game 5 because of a left shoulder sprain.

Rivers termed it a “tough blow” that would result in Garnett logging more minutes at center “than we would like.” Leon Powe, who had 21 points off the bench in Game 2, started in place of Perkins.

With starting point guard Rajon Rondo nursing a bum ankle, the Celtics are beat-up and feeling the physical strain of 25 playoff games, including two seven-game series.

“We have to play [with a sense of urgency] every night, and we absolutely have to play that way now with the injuries,” Rivers said.

Rivers and animated Jack Nicholson have a light-hearted exchange of words before each game at courtside.

“He´s usually telling me his golf score from that day, and I always question the number that he tells me,” Rivers said.

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