LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Lakers proved last night they could win an NBA Finals game with Kobe Bryant being held to 3 points in the second and third quarters.
Bryant's 15 first-quarter points and 7 in the fourth, including a key steal and dunk, were enough for Los Angeles in a 103-98 victory over the Celtics in Game 5, cutting the Lakers' deficit to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, which resumes tomorrow night at the TD Banknorth Garden.
With 40.9 seconds left and the Lakers leading, 97-95, Bryant helped keep alive their hopes in the series by poking the ball away from Paul Pierce. The ball went to Lamar Odom, who passed to Bryant for a dunk. Los Angeles led by at least 3 points the rest of the way.
"He made a heck of a steal," coach Doc Rivers said. "We like the numbers and the way he floor was spread. He made a really last-ditch effort because Paul had him beat. Kevin [Garnett] set what we call a flash screen. Paul had him beat, Kevin was rolling and Kobe - it's not like he gambled, he had no choice. He just came from behind and got a piece of the ball."
Before the fourth quarter started, Bryant told coach Phil Jackson and his teammates he would guard Pierce, despite playing with four fouls.
"I was a little bit concerned about him taking Pierce with four fouls, but he was able to survive it," Jackson said.
Pierce missed three of his four fourth-quarter shots, but made all 10 of his free throws and Bryant was not charged with a foul. Bryant scored 15 of his 25 points in the first quarter, making four 3-point shots, as the Lakers outscored the Celtics, 39-22.
"He set the tone for the game, had a lot of energy out there, got a rhythm going, got confidence built for the team," Jackson said.
Rivers said he thought Bryant, "was pretty special in the first quarter."
Bryant missed all four of his shots in the second quarter, as the Lakers' 17-point lead was trimmed to 55-52 at halftime, evoking memories of the Game 4, when LA squandered a 24-point lead.
"You're not going to shoot the ball well all the time against these guys," Bryant said. "They play defense too well. The important thing is to set the tone. That's what my role is, more than scoring 35 or 40 points."
The Lakers were able to compensate for Bryant's lack of production by getting series highs in scoring from Odom (20) and Pau Gasol (19).