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Not such a reach as Pierce, Celtics prevail

Paul Pierce (39 points) celebrates with Tony Allen after the Celtics edged the Lakers.
Paul Pierce (39 points) celebrates with Tony Allen after the Celtics edged the Lakers. (AP Photo / Danny Moloshok)

LOS ANGELES -- Two superstars. Two possessions.

As expected, the Kobe Bryant-Paul Pierce matchup determined the outcome of the Celtics-Lakers game last night at Staples Center. But, surprisingly, it was not a last-second shot or even a series of clutch field goals down the stretch that sealed the Celtics' 112-111 victory. With 3.2 seconds remaining, referee Violet Palmer called a reach-in foul on Bryant. Pierce won the game at the line, hitting the first of two free throws. Bryant (40 points) did have a shot at redemption, but he missed a 21-footer at the buzzer while guarded by Pierce with Orien Greene rapidly approaching from the weak side.

A Celtics-Lakers game simply couldn't end without a little drama.

''I wasn't that concerned [when I made one of two]," said Pierce (39 points). ''I knew they had to make a tough shot with one second to go. We gave ourselves a chance to win, got a good stop. Why wouldn't we want it to end that dramatically? We just wanted to make things exciting. I wanted to step up and [guard Bryant]. I told Coach I had him. I wanted to crowd his face, put my hands up, make him finish over top."

Pierce wished he had the dramatic opportunity given to Bryant at the end of game, that he had won the contest somewhere else besides at the line.

''I really didn't want the call," said Pierce. ''I wanted the shot. I wanted to get the shot in. I didn't want to win it at the free throw line. The stage was set. I'm at home [he grew up in Inglewood]. I get the last shot. I was mad that they made that call, actually."

But not nearly as mad as Bryant, who was bitterly frustrated the winner turned out to be a free throw resulting from his fifth personal. In a showdown of superstars, Bryant didn't get the superstar no-call he thought he deserved.

''I didn't foul him," said Bryant. ''That was a bad call. It was terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. There's no room for that call in this game, not down the stretch of a game. Are you kidding me? It's ridiculous."

Before Boston started its four-game swing through the Western Conference, its chances of finishing with a 3-1 record would have been considered ridiculous, especially since it started the journey with just four road wins total. But despite unfavorable odds and injury, the Celtics finished a great trip with their most impressive victory. All three wins showcased the collective talents of the Celtics, not just the abilities of Pierce.

''We're starting to come together as a team," said Wally Szczerbiak (16 points). ''We're playing as a unit and I don't think we've even hit our stride yet. We're getting open looks and we've got shooters on this club, and we can spread the floor for Paul and make his job a lot easier."

The fourth quarter was a good example of every Boston player making contributions, especially with Pierce picking up his fifth foul with 6:20 remaining and Delonte West earning his sixth with 3:20 left.

Ryan Gomes (career-high 19 points, 12 rebounds) scored on a crucial tip-in off a missed layup by Greene, pushing the Celtics ahead, 110-106, with 56.7 seconds remaining. Then, Bryant hit a pair of free throws to bring LA back within 2 with 45.5 seconds left.

Next, Ronny Turiaf blocked an attempt by Szczerbiak, giving the Lakers the ball back with a chance to tie. Bryant missed a jumper and Raef LaFrentz, who briefly left to receive five stitches for a cut above his left eye, came up with a big rebound. Greene went to the line and made the second of two free throws, giving the visitors a 111-108 cushion with 19.7 seconds remaining. But Lamar Odom came through with a 3-point play to tie the game at 111-111 with 15.3 seconds remaining. Then, Pierce went to the line.

After trailing, 58-54, at halftime, Boston surged ahead in the third, leading by as many as 14 before entering the fourth with a 91-82 edge. The Celtics opened the third with a 25-7 run that lasted until Bryant scored on a 9-foot fadeaway with 4:53 remaining in the period. Boston was 10 of 12 in the third when the run ended and finished the quarter shooting 74 percent (14 for 19).

Bryant helped get the Lakers going in the right direction as they closed within 7 (89-82) when he scored on driving layup with less than 30 seconds left in the third. Even though Boston held a lead, it was clear who held the momentum when the quarter ended.

But while Bryant had to go it alone for the most part, Pierce had plenty of support. That was particularly evident when Gomes scored on a putback of a West 3-point miss. That basket ensured Gomes the career high in points and his third career double-double. The Celtics outscored the Lakers, 37-24, in the third, with Pierce and Gomes accounting for 25 of Boston's points.

''I didn't enter this game intending to go at a scoring duel with [Bryant]," said Pierce. ''It just ended up like that. What's most important to me is the win. I'm happy with the way we finished this road trip. It was a great, great road trip."

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