BOSTON (AP)—Kobe Bryant couldn’t take it anymore, so he took it out on his teammates.
With Game 2, and perhaps Los Angeles’ season slipping away, the league’s MVP looked around the huddle and used some harsh words to fire up the Lakers.
They responded, dug deep and made a remarkable comeback that fell short. Now they have to make a bigger one.
Trailing Boston by 24 points with less than 8 minutes left, the Lakers got within two before losing 108-102 on Sunday night to the Boston Celtics, who are heading out West feeling a little lucky to have a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals.
Only three teams—Boston in 1969, Portland in 1977 and Miami in 2006—have overcome an 0-2 deficit to win the title. With the next three games on their home floor, where they haven’t lost since March 28, Bryant thinks the Lakers can become No. 4.
“We’ve come too far to really sweat being down 2-0,” said Bryant, who scored 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re going to go home and handle our business.”
That’s what the Celtics did—barely.
Paul Pierce darted around the parquet floor with ease to score 28 points and unknown Leon Powe added 21 as the Celtics held serve at home in these trip-down-memory-lane finals. But coasting to a blowout win, the Celtics nearly blew up.
“We’re happy because we won, but we definitely learned a lesson,” Pierce said.
The Lakers trailed 95-71 with 7:55 remaining but used a 31-9 run to pull to 104-102 on two free throws by Bryant with 38.4 seconds left. Pierce, though, made two free throws, then blocked a 3-pointer by Sasha Vujacic, and James Posey made two free throws with 12.6 seconds left to ice it for Boston, which improved to 12-1 at home in the postseason.
“We’ve got to play through the game for 48 minutes, and I didn’t think we did that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we got cute when we got the lead.”
The Lakers, who dropped 41 points on the league’s defensive team in the final 12 minutes, simply ran out of time.
During a timeout in the fourth quarter, Bryant, who has struggled against the Celtics all season, tore into the Lakers with a few well-chosen words that would have never gotten past the network TV censors.
So, what did he say?
“Get our beep in gear,” he said, sounding as if he was dictating in Morse code. “Play beep harder, a bunch of other beeps. It’s beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. ‘Eddie Murphy Raw’ times 10.”
Beyond Bryant’s tirade, the Lakers were also peeved about a huge disparity at the free-throw line. Boston attempted 38 free throws to just 10 for Los Angeles.
Known to whistle at his players, Lakers coach Phil Jackson felt the tweeting sounds he heard out of the officials were too one-sided.
“I’ve never seen a game like that in all these years I’ve coached in the finals,” said Jackson, who is going for his 10th title in 11 finals appearances. “Unbelievable.”
Pierce wasn’t slowed by a sprained right knee suffered in the series opener, when he was carried from the court and plopped into a wheelchair. The Boston captain paced the Celtics, who are back in the finals for the first since 1987, when Larry Bird was the main man and gasoline cost 91 cents per gallon.
As usual, Boston’s Big Three—Pierce, Ray Allen (17 points) and Kevin Garnett (17)—were the ringleaders but Powe, a second-year reserve had the game of his career, adding his 21 points in 15 minutes that may make him a Celtics fan-favorite for life.
Powe, who played a total of 68 seconds during one stretch of 13 games during the season, scored six points to close a 15-2 run ending the third quarter that gave the Celtics a 22-point lead. The quick burst had the Lakers California dreaming. At one point in the fourth quarter, Boston fans discarded the familiar chants of “Beat L.A.” for cries of “Le-on Powe!”
“He was terrific,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Rajon Rondo had a career-high 16 assists and Garnett added 14 rebounds for the Celtics, back in the finals for the first time since 1987.
Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who were so far down in the fourth that many of their purple-and-gold clad fans who came to cheer them on, headed toward the exits and maybe to Logan Airport for the trip out West.
But Bryant brought them back—almost all the way.
His 3-pointer made it 102-91 and then the self-proclaimed “Black Mamba” slithered down the lane for two quick baskets that got the Lakers within 104-95. The Celtics, meanwhile, began to stand around on offense, thinking the game was in hand.
It was anything but.
After Vujacic hit a 3-pointer, Vladimir Radmanovic made a steal and dunk to make it 104-100 and Celtics fans, who had been dancing moments earlier, began to panic. None of Boston’s players seemed to want the ball as it moved around like a hot potato before Rondo missed a jumper with 44 seconds left.
Bryant’s free throws brought Los Angeles to 104-102 before Pierce slashed down the lane and got fouled by Derek Fisher. As a few of his teammates locked arms on the bench like a college team trying to advance in March, Pierce knocked down both foul shots. Then, on defense, he got just enough of Vujacic’s shot from the left wing with 14 seconds left.
Posey was fouled on the play and calmly made his two free throws. The Lakers rushed the ball down but missed on a couple jumpers, and when the final horn sounded, a collective sigh of relief rushed through the exits as the Celtics and their fans left the building confident, if not shaken.
“We’re not settling on a 2-0 lead,” Garnett said. “We want to go out there and win two games in L.A.”
This is the sixth time in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry that a team has taken a 2-0 lead. … Celtics G Sam Cassell sprained his right wrist in the second quarter and didn’t return. … The Lakers made seven 3-pointers in the fourth, tying a finals record. … Jackson, a renowned world traveler who often reviews trips to his destinations, was asked for an overview of his extended stay in Boston, where the weather this week ranged from chilly, October-like conditions to sweltering heat. “It’s very green,” Jackson deadpanned, drawing laughter at the reference to the Celtics’ primary colors. “Boston Commons, the Public Gardens. Very green.”