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Paul Pierce grew up just outside of Los Angeles in Inglewood, and boy does he love coming home. Pierce turned it up in the third quarter, as the Celtics scored an impressive victory over their hated rival Los Angeles Lakers 109-96 at the Staples Center, behind the Captain’s 32 points.
Rajon Rondo had 16 assists and Ray Allen had 21 points behind three three-pointers. Kevin Garnett contributed a strong game for the C’s, with 18 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. He briefly left the game to get patched up in the second quarter, after an elbow from Pau Gasol sent blood streaming from his forehead and down his face. Garnett seized the moment to look extra menacing for the cameras.
It was Shaquille O’Neal’s first game as a Celtic against his former teammate-turned-adversary Kobe Bryant. O’Neal was held to zero points after spending much of the game on the bench, playing only 13 minutes due to his near-predictable foul trouble.
The Celtics opened the third quarter with an 8-3 run to pull themselves out of the four-point deficit they faced at the end of first half. Did I mention that Pierce did his best work in the third? By midway through the quarter, Pierce and Kobe Bryant took the game over, dialing up a familiar back-and-forth duel. With 5:40 to go, Pierce had 28 points and Bryant 25. As the quarter wound down, Rondo turned things around, finishing with five assists after only one in the first half.
Though the Celtics looked to put the game away for good in the fourth, Bryant wasn’t going to let that happen. With just under six minutes to play, Bryant backed in against Pierce, bumped him twice, and followed with a bucket and a foul, making the free throw to convert the three point play. Bryant was about to take over and close the gap. His effort went for naught as the Celtics had no interest in his plan. It was a four-point game with 5:30 to go, but that was a close as it got. Bryant finished with 41 points and zero assists. Whenever Bryant tries to beat the Celtics on his own, he usually fails. The Celtics’ defense has a far easier time stopping one man as opposed to five.
The Celtics went on a 7-0 run with four points from Kevin Garnett and a three-point play from Glen Davis. Davis really kept the energy going in the waning moments, and his presence is often felt in these big games. On ABC’s Halftime Show, Michael Wilbon said that though he hates the phrase, this was indeed a “Statement Game.” With the All-Star break approaching, many teams get distracted and look ahead to their time off. Great teams seize the opportunity to create some distance and remind everybody who’s boss. The Celtics were able to do their job Sunday.
The Celtics won the fourth quarter by a 31-24 edge and avoided losing back-to-back games.