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A Matter of Time for Lakers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lakers didn’t lose Tuesday night’s game at Staples Center to the Boston Celtics by a point, 109-108.

It was closer than that.

They didn’t lose by a tenth of a second.

It was even closer than that.

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Trailing by one, Kobe Bryant launched a shot which would go through the net as time expired. But as replays clearly showed, two of his fingertips were still on the ball as the clock hit 0:00.

It was that close.

“We got together after the last shot,” said referee Bob Delaney. “Through the communication of the three referees, we determined that the shot was still on the hand when there were zeroes on the clock. It’s a late shot.”

No argument from Laker Coach Phil Jackson.

“Looked like it was still in his hand when the red light went off,” Jackson said. “Close. It might have been the only good call they made all night.”

Bryant’s shot was necessary because of Antoine Walker’s go-ahead basket a second earlier. With his team down by two, Walker took an in-bounds pass from Eric Williams, took one dribble, and, before Robert Horry could get to him, launched a three-pointer that banked off the glass and through the hoop with 1.8 seconds remaining.

Walker had 30 points along with 14 rebounds and 10 assists for a triple-double.

Teammate Paul Pierce had a game-high 33 points.

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Lost in all the excitement was the return of Shaquille O’Neal after a five-game stay on the injured list to rest the arthritic big toe on his right foot. O’Neal had 25 points and 17 rebounds.

Even without the game-winning shot, Bryant had a team-leading 27 points.

Cedric Maxwell, the former Celtic forward who now works as a team broadcaster, said before the game the best way to recreate the old Celtic-Laker rivalry would be to reunite the teams of the 1980s for one game on pay-per-view.

Don’t waste your time focusing on nostalgia.

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The reunited Lakers and rejuvenated Celtics, while not exactly recreating the Magic-Bird era, put some life back into the old rivalry Tuesday in front of a sellout crowd of 18,997.

The Lakers dominated Boston in the first half, only to have the Celtics make a fight of it later.

It didn’t take O’Neal long to make his presence felt. As a matter of fact, it didn’t take any time at all. O’Neal easily won the opening tipoff against Tony Battie.

Systems check: Leaping ability operating normally.

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With a little over a minute gone, O’Neal was fouled. He converted both free throws.

Systems check: Free-throw shooting operating above normal.

Two and a half minutes into the first half, O’Neal took a pass from Rick Fox and scored on a trademark slam dunk.

Systems check: Strength and determination operating within normal range.

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Thirty seconds later, O’Neal took another pass from Fox and scored on a smooth layup.

Systems check: Mobility operating within normal range.

O’Neal also drew a foul on the play, but missed the free throw.

Systems check: Free-throw shooting back to normal.

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Diagnostic conclusion: Shaq is back.

The Lakers led by 12 after the first quarter, 34-22, and upped that to 15, 63-48, at halftime.

The Lakers squandered nearly all of that in the first five minutes of the third quarter, Kenny Anderson’s jumper moving the Celtics to within five at 70-65.

The Celtics figured to be tired, playing their fifth game in eight days in the final stretch of a marathon seven-game trip.

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But it was the Celtics, not the Lakers, who appeared to have the fresher legs.

“They made a nice comeback on us,” Jackson said. “We seemed to lose all our sense of execution down the stretch the last two minutes of the game.”

Bryant disputed the officials call on the court, and was still disputing the call in the locker room after the game, saying Sean Corbin changed the minds of Delaney and third official Phil Robinson.

“Two officials said it was good,” Bryant said. “For one to come in and overturn it in such a close situation, I don’t agree with that too much.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Shaq’s Back

How the Laker starting frontcourt has fared in games without Shaq this season. Statistics listed as points/rebounds:

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Dec. 25--at Lakers 88, Philadelphia 82

Medvedenko 12/3, Fox 2/6, Walker 18/10

Dec. 26--at Golden St. 101, Lakers 90

Fox 4/4, Medvedenko 12/8, Walker 11/6

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Dec. 28--Toronto 89, at Lakers 86

Fox 14/7, Medvedenko 6/4, Walker 9/14

Dec. 30--at Lakers 114, Houston 90

Fox 16/6, Medvedenko 4/2, Walker 12/4

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Jan. 2--Lakers 87, at Denver 86

Fox 17/7, Madsen 5/5, Walker 14/11

Jan. 14--at Lakers 120, Memphis 81

Fox 3/3, Horry 12/11, Walker 7/8

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Jan. 16--Miami 102, at Lakers 96

Madsen 6/8, Fox 11/2, Walker 14/13

Jan. 19--Lakers 98, at San Antonio 81

Fox 6/6, Walker 6/7, Madsen 8/5

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Feb. 6--Chicago 97, at Lakers 89

Fox 8/1, Medvedenko 11/2, Walker 8/14

Feb. 12--at Lakers 103, Washington 94

Fox 10/3, Madsen 5/3, Walker 9/5

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Feb. 14--Lakers 92, at Seattle 87

Fox 13/8, Madsen 4/6, Walker 6/2

Feb. 15--Atlanta 93, at Lakers 90

George 12/5, Fox 0/7, Walker 4/7

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Feb. 17--at Portland 111, Lakers 105

Horry 22/8, Fox 18/6, Walker 2/3

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TOTALS

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WITHOUT SHAQ

Record: 7-6. Starting frontcourt averaged: 27.8 points, 18. 5 rebounds

WITH SHAQ

Record: 28-10. Starting frontcourt averaged: 43.5 points, 24.7 rebounds

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