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Bryant scores 36 points to give Lakers crucial win over Celtics, cuts series deficit to 2-1

Bryant scores 36 points to give Lakers crucial win over Celtics, cuts series deficit to 2-1

On his floor and on his game, Kobe Bryant revived Los Angeles _ and the NBA finals _ as the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 87-81 in Game 3 on Tuesday.
With his team one loss from falling to a nearly terminal 3-0 series deficit, Bryant was close to the form that made him this season's MVP, scoring 36 points. More of a surprise was the 20 points from reserve Sasha Vujacic.
A change of time zones and attitude did wonders for the Lakers, who staggered home from Boston in an 0-2 hole and couldn't afford to fall any further behind in the first best-of-seven matchup between the league's marquee teams since 1987.
No team in NBA playoff history had ever overcome an 0-3 deficit.
Bryant made sure the Lakers won't have to. And this time, the superstar got some help.
Slovenian Vujacic, the self-proclaimed "Machine," made three 3-pointers, including a crucial shot with 1:53 left that gave the Lakers an 81-76 lead. Spaniard Pau Gasol finally flexed his muscles with two inside baskets in the fourth quarter and Derek Fisher, who took a big pay cut to come back and play for the Lakers, made two free throws with 1:33 remaining as the Lakers held on.
"We just wanted to play," said Bryant, whose only flaw was an 11-of-18 night from the foul line. "I don't think anyone was feeling desperate."
Game 4 is Thursday at the Staples Center, where the Lakers are 9-0 in the playoffs and unbeaten in 15 games since March.
But it took everything they had to keep that streak alive as the Celtics, two wins from their 17th NBA title but only 2-8 on the road in this postseason, made the Lakers play a more physical, Eastern Conference-style game and nearly walked away with a win.
Ray Allen scored 25 points _ 15 on 3-pointers _ for the Celtics, but only one-third of Boston's Big Three showed up.
Kevin Garnett scored just 13 points on just 6-of-21 shooting and Paul Pierce, playing a short drive from his childhood home, had only six points, missed 12 shots and was in foul trouble all night.
After Garnett's dunk brought the Celtics within 83-78 with 1:28 to go, Bryant drove on Allen to get some space, pulled up and drilled the jump shot.
Eddie House, who gave Boston big minutes when Rajon Rondo went out with an injury, countered with a 3-pointer, and suddenly the Lakers' glitzy crowd, which included Jack Nicholson in his familiar courtside seat, grew uneasy.
But Bryant calmed their twitching nerves quickly. On the Lakers' next possession, Bryant backed down in the lane and dropped in a short jumper to make it 87-81 to complete the scoring.
Los Angeles is trying to become the fourth team to come back from an 0-2 deficit, and with two more games at home, they've got a chance to turn the series around.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers figured Bryant would take over the series at some point, but he didn't expect Vujacic, who scored a combined 16 points in Games 1 and 2, to be such a factor.
"Kobe was fantastic but Vujacic was the key to the game," he said. "I said before we are going to have to win a game when Kobe Bryant plays well. We know that. But when that happens, we have to shut off the other avenues."
This game won't be remembered as one of the better ones in the storied Lakers-Celtics rivalry, but it did have a few moments of the physical nastiness that defined their matchups during the 1980s.
"It was not a beautiful ballgame," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "That's a transition game from East Coast to West Coast. But we'll have a day to catch up tomorrow and hopefully both of us will play better basketball on Thursday night."
The chatter before tipoff included uneasy discussions about past officiating. The league was again having to deal with allegations made by former referee Tim Donaghy, who claims in court documents that NBA referees rigged the 2002 playoff series between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings.
Commissioner David Stern reiterated the league's stance that Donaghy acted alone and feels his lawyers were using Game 3's platform to help their client.
After Game 2, Jackson, Bryant and a few other Lakers had made pointed and sarcastic comments about the lopsided whistles. But if they were worried about there being any favoritism toward Boston, they were mistaken as the Lakers attempted 14 free throws in the first quarter _ four more than in all of Game 2.
Los Angeles took 34 free throws to Boston's 22.


Updated : 2021-06-19 06:30 GMT+08:00