When push comes to shove, the Lakers fail to answer

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From Boston

So this is what the wall looks like.

Sickly green, bulging with elbows, dripping with sweat, a solid sheet of basketball will.

So this is how the Lakers look with backs flattened against it.

Kobe Bryant screaming, Ron Artest bricking, Pau Gasol disappearing, Andrew Bynum limping, Lamar Odom smiling?

“We’ll respond,” he said.

You will? How? If the Lakers’ answer is anything like it was on this steamroller of a Sunday night at TD Garden, they will soon end their season with a loud and pronounced cry of uncle.

Ouch! they moaned when the Boston Celtics’ tiny Rajon Rondo soared over Odom and Bryant for a key fourth-quarter tip-in.

Aww! they wept when Paul Pierce took an inbounds pass, shrugged off Derek Fisher and found Rondo running past Artest for a key uncontested four-quarter layup.

Oh no! they whined when the Celtics grabbed so many loose balls and shoved so many purple bodies, former and current New England Patriots heroes Tedy Bruschi and Wes Welker stood up in the stands and roared as if their team had just punched in a touchdown.

This is no longer a series, it is a stereotype, the resilient Celtics boxing around the retreating Lakers, 92-86, Sunday at TD Garden to take a three-games-to-two lead.

The Finals return to the comfort of Staples Center for Game 6 on Tuesday, with a possible Game 7 there on Thursday, but don’t be fooled. If home is where the heart is, the Lakers need to conduct an all-out search once they arrive.

At this point, the better team is not the better team. The biggest is not the strongest. Style is getting whacked by substance. Talent is getting whacked by tough.

Said Bynum: “We’ve got to get into it.”

Said the Celtics’ Tony Allen: “We’re way into it.”

That pretty much said it all on a night when a biology class turned into a history lesson. Less than two weeks after the Lakers began the series showing their 2010 guts, they have reverted to their 2008 softness.

For nearly three hours here, in front of a crowd that hooted like empowered bullies, one team played basketball while the other team performed ballet.

In building a 13-point lead and holding off a late surge, the Celtics sent the Lakers flying into the stands, pushed them spinning across the floor, twirled them in circles on loose balls.

“Again they got all the hustle points in terms of loose balls and offensive rebounds down the stretch,” said Bryant.

“They played with more tenacity than we did in that stretch.”

The game’s best closer tried to close it with 19 consecutive points in the third quarter, but, goodness, he needs a little help.

Gasol was barely there, two points in the first half, beaten badly by Kevin Garnett throughout, and who’s lost their explosiveness now? Bryum is struggling with a torn knee, but how does the biggest guy on the court play 31 minutes and get one just one rebound?

Then there was Artest who, on the verge of being the most costly signing of the Mitch Kupchak era, added a new twist to his game, being awful on defense as well as offense, allowing Paul Pierce to work him for 27 points.

When Artest had a chance for redemption with two free throws with the Lakers trailing by five with 43 seconds left, he clanked them both.

“Tonight was all about how we played as a team,” protested Artest.

Well, the Lakers flunked that part, too, with just two scorers in double figures and only a dozen assists, while the Celtics had four guys in double figures and 21 assists.

“Everybody on our team knows their role, and everybody plays it 110%, we’re all on the same page, and it shows,” said Allen.

Of the previous 25 times an NBA Finals was tied at two games apiece, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 19 times.

Yet afterward, the only page that seems shared by the Lakers seems to be the one that is covered in idle doodles.

When Bryant was asked about the fear of being within a few hours of elimination, he responded with his usual spring sarcasm.

“I’m not very confident at all,” he said, laughing.

When Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked essentially the same thing, he gave essentially the same answer.

“Now we’re going back to home court to win it,” he said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?”

Late in this game, a courtside microphone picked up Jackson telling his players that nobody blows fourth-quarter leads like the Celtics.

“They know how to lose,” Jackson told his team.

Right idea. Wrong team. The wall awaits.

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