Pierce Outduels Bryant As Celtics Edge Lakers
Boston 112, L.A. Lakers 111
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 26 (Ticker) -- Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are long gone, but Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant provided a nostalgic feeling as the Boston Celtics edged the Los Angeles Lakers.
Pierce scored 39 points and drilled the game-winning free throw with 3.7 seconds left, lifting the Celtics to a frantic 112-111 triumph over Bryant and the Lakers.
"Going 3-1 on this trip without Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins and even Wally (Szczerbiak) for one game is just a phenomenal trip for our basketball team," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We are improving and we are becoming a team is what it is. We've got a long way to go before we are really, really a good team. We just need to keep it going."
Pierce has been outstanding of late, scoring at least 30 points in eight of his last nine games. The five-time All-Star is averaging a league-leading 33.5 points in 11 games in February.
Rookie Ryan Gomes had a season-high 19 points and 12 rebounds, Delonte West added 19 and 10 assists and Szczerbiak chipped in 16 for the Celtics, who had lost their last three visits here. Gomes has been particularly effective recently, averaging 12.6 points since replacing Perkins in the starting lineup seven games ago.
"A number of guys have really been giving us a lift," Pierce said. "A lot of guys have really grown up right before my eyes. Look at what Gomes has done in the starting lineup, and Delonte West has been a real key to this ballclub. If I don't have these guys, then I can't do what I do."
Bryant poured in 40 points and Brian Cook added 19 for Los Angeles, which has dropped eight of its last 12. The NBA's leading scorer, Bryant has 15 40-point games this season.
Although both franchises are far removed from their championship days of the 1980s, the Celtics and Lakers delivered an exciting contest to a sellout crowd of 18,997 and a national TV audience.
"This is a great, old rivalry," Rivers said. "Celtics and Lakers is not like it used to be, both teams need to improve. But there will always be something there. If we can both improve, I think it would be special for the league. That's all I wanted to see as a kid. I didn't want to see anyone else except Philly. I thought it was a three-team league for a long time."
Los Angeles trailed, 110-108, with less than a minute left when rookie Ronny Turiaf swatted a shot by Szczerbiak. The Lakers missed their chance to tie the game on the ensuing possession when Bryant missed a short runner in the lane.
But Boston rookie Orien Greene made just 1-of-2 free throws on the other end, and Los Angeles took advantage when Lamar Odom converted a three-point play to forge a 111-111 tie with 15 seconds left.
The Celtics ran an isolation play for Pierce on their last possession, but Bryant committed a reach-in foul with 3.7 seconds left to put Pierce at the line. Although he appeared to be intentionally giving a foul, Bryant insisted that referee Violet Palmer made a poor call.
"I didn't foul him," Bryant said. "That was a bad call. Terrible, not down the stretch of a game."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson agreed with his superstar.
"He reached behind to knock the ball loose, and (Palmer) made the call," Jackson said. "This is the second game where we've had inconsequential plays land us on the free-throw line in the last seconds of the game."
Pierce calmly sank the first free throw but missed the second. Luke Walton corraled the rebound before calling a timeout to give the Lakers one last shot.
After Walton did not see an open Odom cutting to the basket, he inbounded to Bryant, who missed badly on a fallaway 20-footer as time expired.
"I had two guys on me," Bryant said. "Somebody else should have been open. I had a tough shot that just didn't fall."
Trailing by four at halftime, the Celtics erupted for 37 points in the third quarter and entered the final period with a 91-82 advantage. But the Lakers went on a 9-0 run with Bryant on the bench to cut the deficit to 94-91 with 9:33 remaining.
The teams traded baskets over the next five minutes until West and Pierce drilled consecutive jumpers to give Boston a 108-101 cushion.
However, Los Angeles rallied to slice the deficit to 108-106 after Smush Parker's thunderous dunk with just over two minutes left. But Gomes converted a tip-in with 54 seconds left to push Boston's advantage to 110-106.
"The most important thing is we got the W," Gomes said. "My thing to do here is to just rebound. On that last play where I got the tip-in, its was just an aggressive drive by Orien and I was just able to sneak in there and get the tip-in."