BOSTON - The Los Angeles Lakers are doing their best to forget all those awful memories of playing in the Boston Garden.
Kobe Bryant sank the go-ahead basket with 7.3 seconds left, and the Lakers stole a 90-89 victory on Sunday for their third consecutive victory over the struggling Celtics. Boston has not been able to make good on the traditional “Beat L.A.!” chant since clinching the 2008 NBA championship with a 131-92 victory in Game 6 of the NFA Finals in Boston.
“They smacked us two years ago,” Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “It was a big game for us. This is a team that’s going to be battling to be coming out of the East.”
Winners of 32 NBA titles between them – including the last two – the Lakers and Celtics have met in the finals 11 times, from Bill Russell against Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, to Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird and on to the current matchup of Bryant facing the New Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
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The Celtics led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter and nursed a one-point lead until Pierce was called for an offensive foul for pushing off as he jumped to shoot with 28 seconds to go.
“At that point, I think it’s got to be unbelievable, but I didn’t see it so I really can’t give an opinion on it,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, I do know Kobe pushes off a lot.”
Bryant complained of a stiff ankle after Friday night’s win in Philadelphia, and it seemed to bother him during the game. He shot just 8-for-20 but made the big one: making a move toward the basket before stepping back from Allen’s defense and swishing the ball through the net to give Los Angeles its only lead of the second half.
“He had a couple of looks before that that were good looks, and he didn’t put them in. We were mystified by that,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who tied Pat Riley atop the franchise coaching list with his 533rd win in Los Angeles. “He told me the next one was going to go in, so we went with him.”
Bryant finished with 19 points. Andrew Bynum had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 11 points and 11 boards for the Lakers, who won their fourth consecutive game.
“I didn’t say give me one more chance. I said give me the damn ball,” Bryant said. “I never really give him much of a choice.”
Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists for the Celtics, who have lost six of their last eight games.
Pierce scored 15, Garnett had 10 with nine rebounds and Kendrick Perkins had eight points and 10 boards for the Celtics.
“It’s nothing to be happy about, I’ll tell you that,” Garnett said. “We haven’t been producing wins, but we’re a hardworking group.”
Garnett missed 10 of those games with a hyperextended right knee, and Boston was 4-6 without him. But Garnett’s return hasn’t solved all the Celtics’ problems.
The Celtics led 81-70 before the Lakers made the next four baskets. Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer – his only basket of the game – to stop the run, and it was still a three-point game with less than two minutes left when Bryant hit a pair of free throws to make it 87-86.
Allen hit a pair of free throws, then Ron Artest sank a runner in the lane to make it 89-88. The Celtics got the ball to Pierce, who created a little too much space for himself, negating his basket and giving the ball to the Lakers.
“I thought I made a good move. I got to my sweet spot,” Pierce said. “I guess the ref saw it differently and he made the call. That’s part of the game. That’s why you have referees.”