After playing with fire late, the Celtics held on to earn a chance to party near Hollywood. And this party is 22 years in the making.
The Celtics nearly blew a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter last night before defeating the Lakers, 108-102, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at TD Banknorth Garden. Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is tomorrow night in Los Angeles, as is Game 4 Thursday and, if needed, Game 5 Sunday. The Celtics are hoping to return to Boston with an elusive 17th NBA title, their first since 1986.
"I told the guys, 'We're up, 2-0, and I'm happy with the win,' " Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I just wasn't very happy with the way we played."
Said forward Kevin Garnett: "All year long we've been taking each game a game at a time, and LA will be no different from that."
The Celtics were up 24 with 7:55 left in the fourth after a 20-foot jumper by Garnett (17 points, 14 rebounds). A James Posey 3-pointer gave Boston a 16-point lead, 102-86, with 3:38 left to play. While the Celtics seemed en route to a blowout, the Lakers weren't ready to give in before going home.
The Lakers used a 14-2 run, capped by a Vladimir Radmanovic dunk, to slice the deficit to 104-100 with 1:03 remaining. After being fouled, Lakers star Kobe Bryant nailed two free throws with 38.4 seconds left to trim the deficit to 104-102.
"You just keep playing," Bryant said. "You don't know what's going to happen. Mathematically we felt like if we cut it down to about 10 . . . the goal was to cut it down to 10 with about seven minutes to go. We weren't able to do that, so after that it was about slicing it and getting it to single digits and applying more and more pressure."
After being fouled on a drive, Paul Pierce made two free throws with 22.8 seconds left to give Boston a 106-102 lead.
After Pierce tipped a 3-point attempt by Sasha Vujacic, Posey got the ball and was fouled. With 12.6 seconds left, he made two free throws, sealing the huge home win.
"I was a little disappointed in our play in the last six minutes of the game," said Pierce. "I thought we just weren't aggressive enough to put the game away. I thought we wanted the time to just run out.
"I was a little lackadaisical with the ball. It's a great win, but definitely a lesson to be learned in that last six minutes. But just down the stretch, we've got to be a little more aggressive."
Said Rivers: "I thought the fourth quarter was awful."
Pierce overcame a right knee sprain suffered in Game 1 to score 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. He was 4 of 4 from 3-point range and 6 of 7 at the line. He also played 41 minutes, saying the knee brace he wore helped and that he will wear it in Game 3.
"I felt pretty good," Pierce said. "I didn't really think about the injury because once I step on the court, it pretty much goes out the window. You hear the crowd, the adrenaline is going."
"I'm not surprised by Paul playing 40 minutes," said Rivers. "I thought before the game he felt great, he looked great, so I liked what he was going to do."
The Celtics shot 52.9 percent, nailed 9 of 14 3-pointers, and nailed 27 of 38 free throws. Guard Rajon Rondo had a game-high 16 assists. And the Boston bench scored 35 points, including 21 with nine free throws from reserve forward-center Leon Powe.
"Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play. That's ridiculous," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Bryant scored 13 of his 30 in the fourth quarter, made 11 of 23 field goal attempts, and all seven of his free throws. The Lakers nailed seven of their 12 3-pointers in the fourth to help trim the deficit.
The Celtics are now 12-1 at home in the postseason. They are 2-7 away from the Garden in the playoffs, although they won two of their last three road games in the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit.
The Lakers are 8-0 at Staples Center this postseason.
"They took care of business at home, and we've got to go home and try to do the same thing," said Bryant. "It's not the end of the world. We've come too far to really sweat being down, 2-0. We're going to go home and handle our business."
Pierce, a Los Angeles native, said, "We did our job, we held home court. We're not settling on a 2-0 lead. We want to go out there and win two games in LA. That's our focus, and that's what we want to go out there and try to do."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com.