Rising to it

Times Staff Writer

It happened again, inexplicably yet indelibly, a large Lakers lead shredded among stunned silence.

This time, though, the Lakers took it back and clung to it, emerging from Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a 103-98 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday at Staples Center.

Faced with the choice of extending the series or answering to another embarrassing lost lead, the Lakers opted for a return trip to Boston.

Game 6 is Tuesday, a six-hour flight and three times zones away, though the Lakers couldn’t be happier to make the trek after a 19-point second-quarter lead turned out to be just as flimsy as a 24-point lead in Game 4.

It only gets more difficult for the Lakers. No team has ever won Games 6 and 7 on the road since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985.


“Not in our house!” the Staples Center scoreboard proclaimed as the final seconds wound down, but now the Lakers head for a court on which the Celtics are 12-1 in the playoffs.

Still, a victory is a victory, especially after the Lakers’ historic Game 4 meltdown. The championship trophy, stashed in a room underneath Staples Center in case its postgame presence was required, will be packed up and shipped back to Boston.

“We didn’t want to see champagne popping,” said forward Lamar Odom, who rebounded from a quiet second half in Game 4 with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in Game 5.

The purple-and-gold confetti fell for the final time this season inside Staples Center, and there were some feel-good moments for the Lakers.

Odom and Pau Gasol (19 points, 13 rebounds) combined to make a commendable 14 of 20 shots, effectively eating away at a depleted Celtics interior defense.

On the other hand, Kobe Bryant made only eight of 21 shots and had six turnovers. He had 25 points and five steals but has had made only 14 of 40 shots (35%) the last two games.

There’s also that issue of large leads that dissipate almost as quickly as they’re built.

Sasha Vujacic’s 22-footer gave the Lakers a 43-24 lead with 11:08 left in the second quarter, and it never quite seemed substantial enough.

Indeed, the Lakers began to backtrack the rest of the second quarter, taking only a 55-52 lead into the locker room at halftime.

“I went in at halftime and said, ‘Thank God we don’t have a [large] lead because we just don’t know what to do with it,’ ” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said facetiously.

It got worse for the Lakers, quickly, Rajon Rondo’s 19-footer giving the Celtics a 62-60 lead with 8:26 left in the third quarter. But Gasol answered with a short turnaround and then a three-point play after getting fouled on a reverse layup, giving the Lakers a 65-62 lead.

The Lakers never trailed again, though they had tense moments in the fourth quarter as a 14-point lead was again whittled down, the Celtics drawing to within 92-91 on a free throw by Kevin Garnett with 3:54 to play.

Bryant was in the thick of the game-turning play, causing Paul Pierce to lose the ball while dribbling near the three-point line with 40.9 seconds to play and the Lakers ahead, 97-95.

Bryant didn’t appear to actually touch the ball but was credited with a steal when Pierce lost control of his dribble and the ball flew into Odom’s hands. Odom immediately fed Bryant on a breakaway at the other end for a dunk and 99-95 lead.

The Lakers could finally exhale, lost lead and everything. On to Boston.

“Just keep forcing the games,” Jackson said. “Don’t think anything past this next opportunity on Tuesday to play this team again.”

The Celtics were short-handed to begin with.

Leon Powe started in place of Kendrick Perkins, who sat out because of a strained shoulder. Powe played almost the first five minutes, sat down without a point and never returned.

Pierce gashed the Lakers for 38 points, though Ray Allen (16 points) and Garnett (13 points) were the only Celtics to join him in double-figure scoring.

Allen left quickly after the game because of a health issue with one of his children, according to Celtics Coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers also spoke about the benefits about returning to Boston.

“Well, we wanted to go back home, but we didn’t want to play, you know what I mean?” Rivers said. “That’s why the regular season is so important. We have Game 6 at home, and that’s not a bad place to be.”

Before the game ended, one fan’s sign summed up Lakers’ fans thoughts: “Do You Believe? Lakers in 7.”

At the very least, there’s now a Game 6.





Much-maligned Lakers center Pau Gasol had 19 points, 13

rebounds and six assists.



Lakers outscored the Celtics

in the third quarter for the

first time in the series.