Pierce powers Celtics to 3-2 NBA finals lead

BOSTON, Massachusetts – Paul Pierce scored 27 points and Kevin Garnett had 18 with 10 rebounds as Boston beat Los Angeles 92-86 Sunday to put the reigning champion Lakers on the brink of elimination in the NBA finals.Rajon Rondo had 18 points and eight assists for the Celtics, who defended their home court for the second straight game to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.

Pierce shot 12-of-21 from the field as Boston put on a shooting clinic in front of a crowd of 18,624, hitting 56.3 percent from the field to move within one victory of capturing their second championship in three years.

“This is a tough mental group,” Pierce said. “As the series goes on we are finding things we can do.

“We have been one of best road teams all year and we are too close to our goal. We got to get one (more win). We got to get one.”

The series now shifts back to California, where the Celtics will try to win their NBA-leading 18th title in franchise history with a win in game six Tuesday at Staples Center arena. A game seven would also be in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant did his best to rally the troops, scoring 19 of his game high 38 points in the third quarter for the Lakers who became the first team in the series to lose two games in a row.

Spain’s Pau Gasol finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who are not only vying for back-to-back titles but seeking a measure of revenge after losing to the Celtics in the finals two years ago.

Bryant didn’t get much help from his teammates as the Lakers shot just 39.7 percent from the field.

Jackson seemed convinced the Celtics would fold down the stretch, telling his players during a fourth quarter timeout to not give up hope.

“This team has lost more games in fourth than any other team in the NBA,” Jackson said in the huddle. “They know how to lose in the fourth and they are showing us that right now.”

Unfortunately for Jackson and the Lakers, Boston had already set the tone early. The Celtics came out quickly at their Garden arena, scoring the opening six points of the game before taking a 22-20 lead at the end of the first.

Pierce scored eight points in the first quarter and continued his hot hand in the second with seven more. The Celtics bench, that was so crucial in game four, also chipped in Sunday as the Celtics built a six point lead at the half, 45-39.

The Lakers seemed to have no answer for Los Angeles native Pierce, who boldly predicted last week that the series would end early and the teams wouldn’t be heading back to the west coast for a game six.

While his prediction didn’t come true, Pierce did his best to make sure his Celtics at least went back to LA with a series lead.

“We knew Kobe would come out aggresive and we did a good job of making him make tough shots,” Pierce said.

Game four was the most physical contest in the series and some of that aggression carried over to game five. Late in the second quarter Rondo was slapped with a technical foul for giving Laker Ron Artest a one-arm shove under the Lakers basket that made Artest wobble.

Rondo was upset because he felt Artest had been too aggressive in stopping teammate Garnett on a drive just seconds earlier.

Artest, like many of his teammates, had a disappointing game shooting just four-of-14 from the field and sinking just one of four three throws.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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