Kobe Bryant tried to beat the Boston Celtics by himself Sunday night in Game 5 at the TD Garden, but he–and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers– failed the task.
Bryant scored 38 points but Pau Gasol (12 points) was the only other Laker in double-figures, and the Celtics pulled ahead 3-2 in the series with a convincing 92-86 win.
With the NBA Finals tied at two games each, The Big Three emerged from a collective Finals-slumber, combining for 57 points on 23-42 shooting. Paul Pierce spearheaded the Celtics effort with 27 points, including 11 points in the pivotal third quarter in which he squared off with a sizzling Bryant. Bryant scored 19 of the Lakers 26 points in the third quarter–making seven of his nine shots–but Boston somehow extended their halftime lead of six points to eight heading into the fourth quarter.
In the first half, Boston set a great pace offensively, resulting in defensive switches and easy hoops. Pierce had 15 points on 7-10 shooting, the Celtics shot 58% for the half, and Kobe was just 4-12. Yet, the Celtics lead by only six points, 45-39. Los Angeles hung around in the first half because they had eight offensive rebounds and Boston committed 11 turnovers.
With 4:55 left in the second quarter, Kevin Garnett went up for a transition layup and was fouled hard by Ron Artest. Rajon Rondo came to Garnett’s defense by shoving Artest, which quickly earned Rondo a technical foul. The technical seemed to refocus the team, which began playing with more effort and intensity.
Pierce went on a scoring barrage to finish the second quarter and on into the third. Considering the stakes, Garnett played perhaps his best game of the post-season, with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and five steals. Garnett once again attacked Pau Gasol in the painted area, earning himself short buckets and multiple trips to the free throw line. Rondo added 18 points, eight assists, and five rebounds, but he also committed 7 turnovers.
Like Pierce, Bryant was also feeling the summer heat in the third quarter–and admittedly hit some world-class leaners– but it came at the expense of his teammates. Bryant wanted the ball on every possession, and he could be seen verbally assaulting other Lakers who dared to shoot. Bryant reamed out poor Luke Walton for a drive that created a wide-open three-pointer for Derek Fisher.
Because Kobe took so many shots,27, the rest of the Lakers were inactive both offensively and defensively.The Celtics outscored the Lakers 46-32 in points in the paint, and shot over 56% for the game. Pau Gasol never established himself in the post and took only 12 shots in 38 minutes of action. Ron Artest and Fisher were both 2-9 from the floor, while Artest was nothing but an orange drill-cone for the elusive Pierce most of the game.
The Boston Celtics lead most of the game, but, in the fourth quarter, the Lakers cut the lead to five after Ray Allen fouled Bryant on a three-pointer and he made all three free throws. With about 45 seconds left, Kevin Garnett and Derek Fisher were in a jump ball on the Celtics offensive end. Fisher quick-jumped Joey Crawford’s toss and stole the tip, which ended up in the hands of a streaking Artest. Pierce fouled Artest, who missed both free throws.
After Artest missed the pair, Pierce rebounded the ball and Boston called timeout. On the ensuing inbounds play, Garnett threw a high-arching pass to a sprinting Pierce, who caught the ball and passed it to Rondo for a layup–all in a matter of seconds. Rondo’s layup gave the Celtics a seven point lead with 35 seconds to go, and put the finishing touches on the Game 5 win.