The Lakers made sure of it Tuesday with a pointed defensive declaration in Game 3, beating back Boston in a 91-84 victory with unlikely star Derek Fisher, a stunning reversal by Game 2 protagonist Ray Allen and, near the end, a rare smile from Kobe Bryant, as telling a sign as any that the series had tilted in the Lakers' direction.
The noise level at TD Garden was nonexistent, if that's ever possible, after the Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 on Thursday and Game 5 on Sunday are also in Boston, but the Lakers regained home-court advantage despite Pierce's late proclamation in Game 2 that the Celtics "ain't coming back to L.A."
Of course, the Lakers could now finish the series in Boston, but that's another story for a different day.
There's also a stat Lakers followers can tuck in next to them at night: Since the Finals went to the 2-3-2 format 25 years ago, the Game 3 winner has taken the championship 10 out of 10 times when the series was tied at 1-1.
Fisher had 11 fourth-quarter points, including the play of the season for the Lakers, taking a defensive rebound, dribbling past a sleepy Celtics defense and getting fouled after making a layup. He made the free throw, giving the Lakers an 87-80 lead with 48.3 seconds to play on their way to their first playoff victory in Boston since Magic Johnson's "junior skyhook" in 1987.
The series was suddenly in the Lakers' control, the play leading to a quick celebration from Bryant, an all-business type these days. There was also an emotional catch in Fisher's voice in a TV interview immediately after the game.
Said Fisher, a while later: "I love what I do and I love helping my team win."
Said Bryant: "He's been criticized quite a bit for his age. It's a huge thrill for him and for all of us to see him come through in these moments."
Said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers: "[Fisher] won the game for them."
It was the 35-year-old Fisher who brought the Lakers to victory, finishing with 16 points and also holding Allen to two points on 0-for-13 shooting.
Allen didn't come close to the 32-point effort he had in Game 2, where he made eight three-pointers.
"The job that Fish did on Allen was terrific tonight," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Pierce didn't exactly back up his words with his play, scoring 15 points, taking only two rebounds and picking up five fouls in 34 minutes.
"It happens," he said when asked about his late comments in Game 2 that were picked up on TV. "I'm confident in my ballclub, so if I say that type of stuff, it's all in good spirits. I want to win just like they want to win. We've got to go back to L.A. We've got to do it the hard way. Not a problem."
Early in the day, the Lakers weren't thrilled with Pierce's proclamation.
Fisher stood in uncomfortable silence, his jaw taut, when asked about it. Jackson said simply, "We're going to have to make him a liar."
The stats already were already stacking up against the Celtics in the first half. Allen was scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting, Pierce had five points on one-for-eight shooting and if not for a resurgent Kevin Garnett (15 points in the first half, 25 overall), the Celtics would have been down much more than 52-40 at halftime.
The Lakers' first-half effort was wrapped into one play. Bryant missed a runner, but poked the rebound away from Garnett and found Bynum for a layup while falling out of bounds. Bynum turned it into a three-point play after getting fouled by Garnett, giving the Lakers a 46-35 lead.
The Celtics made their run in the second half, pulling within one on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but they never led.
Rajon Rondo had a triple-double in Game 2 but a quiet night in Game 3, 11 points and eight assists.
Pau Gasol finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Bynum with nine points and 10 rebounds.
The writing on the dry-erase board in the Lakers' locker room after the game said it all: "2 More W's."
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