Celtics head back to LA in driver’s seat
They were the old bones, the annoying underachievers who slogged through the final four months of the regular season, bound to be bounced from the playoffs, maybe in the first round.
Now they are one victory from glory, immortality, and a place in the rafters alongside the Green gods of Garden lore.
The Celtics beat the Lakers, 92-86, in Game 5 last night at TD Garden to take a three games to two lead in the NBA Finals. Captain Paul Pierce (27 points) and friends have two chances (tomorrow and Thursday, if necessary) at Staples Center in Los Angeles to win the franchise’s 18th championship.
“This was huge for us, let’s be honest,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We knew we had to win this game going into it.’’
And they did, despite 38 points by a scoring machine named Kobe Bryant.
There’ll be no more basketball at the Causeway Street Gym in the spring of 2010. If we see the Celtics again in Boston, they’ll be on Duck Boats, accompanied by Mayor Menino citing the franchise’s golden history of Bill “The Stilt’’ Russell, the Hick from French Wyc, Maxwell’s Coffee, and Dohnny Most’s famous call of “Varitek Stole the Ball!’’
The Garden’s last loud roar of June was impressive. The NBA Finals, by definition, draw a high-roller crowd, but folks who packed the big barn last night were loud and loyal. They were, dare we say, like a Game 7 Bruins crowd. The sellout included Hub sports royalty Bill Belichick, Tedy Bruschi, Jonathan Papelbon, and John Havlicek. That’s a lot of hardware lining the perimeter of the parquet.
History holds that when an NBA Finals series is 2-2, the winner of Game 5 wins the championship 76 percent (19 of 25) of the time. The Celtics have never lost a seventh game in the Finals. They have been in this event 20 times, winning 17, including nine series against the Lakers. Boston has won a championship against the Lakers in five buildings: the Minneapolis Auditorium, the old Boston Garden, the Los Angeles Arena, the Los Angeles Forum, and the new Boston Garden. Now the Celtics have a chance to win the championship at the big arena on Figueroa Street in downtown LA.
Pierce came out gunning in Game 5, connecting on 7 of 10 shots in the first half as the Celtics ran to a 45-39 lead at intermission. The Lakers shot only 33 percent (14 for 42) in the first two quarters. LA’s last lead of the game was 37-36.
Pierce stayed hot in the third quarter, canning a three to make it 50-39 in the first minute after halftime.
“We didn’t want to go into LA down three games to two, so this was the biggest game of the year,’’ said Pierce.
It was an odd night for the captain. He seemed to be pouting at times and walked away in mid-play at the end of the second quarter.
“It was nothing,’’ said Pierce. “I wanted the ball and Rajon [Rondo] wanted to do something different and I was a little upset. We’ve got spats with our team all the time. We always clean them right up.’’
“There was some miscommunication,’’ said Rivers. “We want the ball in Paul’s hands at the end of a quarter. It’s our team. You’ve been around long enough to know that that’s us. Here’s how screwed up we are — we had Kevin Garnett and Tony Allen calming us down in the huddle. It’s who we are. We are an emotional team and we’re not going to hide from that.’’
Kobe had only 10 at halftime, but he went into microwave mode after intermission, scoring LA’s first 19 points of the second half. Going back to the second quarter, Kobe scored 23 consecutive Lakers points. It’s a great individual effort, but not a prescription for victory. If he were still here today, the late Wilt Chamberlain could tell us that.
“It’s amazing what that does,’’ said Rivers. “Our guys understood what he was doing, but we were defending everyone else and it was big. He’s the best shot-maker in the game. He was making tough shots.’’
“We were waiting for him to do that,’’ said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “He found a rhythm. He was brimming with confidence in the second half.’’
Although the Celtics could not contain Kobe, the Lakers could not handle The Truth. Pierce scored 11 points in the third quarter, which ended with the Celtics leading, 73-65.
Boston’s bench, which won Game 4, was relatively quiet. Rivers had his starters on the floor when the Lakers cut the lead to 6 in the fourth and Messrs. Pierce, Rondo, Garnett, and Ray Allen stayed on the floor until the end. After the Lakers cut it to 5, Boston scored 6 straight points, including a spectacular (“’Scuse me while I kiss the sky’’) tap-in by Rondo.
There was some drama in the final minute, but the Celtics sealed the win on an inbounds play from Garnett to Pierce to Rondo, good for a 7-point lead with 35.2 seconds left. Pierce made a great catch and throw on the bucket.
“I was showing off my Randy Moss and Tom Brady on one play,’’ said Pierce.
The Lakers shot only 39.7 percent and had a pitiful 12 assists. For the fifth consecutive game, the team that won the rebounding battle (Boston, 35-34) won the game.
“Now we’re going back to home court to win it,’’ said Jackson. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?’’
See you tomorrow.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.