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GAME 1: CELTICS 98, LAKERS 88

Pierce gives team an emotional lift

The arena gets quiet when Celtics star hears a pop in his knee during the third quarter, but he returns and makes the big shots.

June 06, 2008|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Paul Pierce had a first and memorable baptism into the NBA Finals, finally etching his name into this renewed rivalry between what were once his Lakers and what are now his Celtics.

Especially in the third quarter.

The Inglewood native who grew up idolizing Magic Johnson scored 15 of his 22 points in that stretch, making every shot he took after going only one for four in the first half.

It was also a stretch in which the entire building held its breath.

Flanked between the points, Pierce went down and went down hard after bumping into teammate Kendrick Perkins while challenging a Kobe Bryant shot, mildly straining his right knee.

"When I first fell to the ground, I heard a pop in my knee, and all I felt was pain when I grabbed it," Pierce said.

He went to the locker room for a brief spell and came back to a hero's welcome from the crowd.

"I was surprised, the way he was carried off seemed like he was done for the game," teammate Ray Allen said. "To see him coming back was a great feeling."

Before the injury, the tide seemed to be turning for Pierce, as he converted a fade-away three-pointer after double-clutching the ball and allowing Vladimir Radmanovic to collide into him for the foul.

"Once I felt like I could put weight on it, I was like, I had to get back out there to help my ballclub," Pierce said. "That was all that was going through my mind, just being a part of it. I just wanted to get back out there."

After the injury and a plea with Celtics Coach Doc Rivers to re-enter, he made consecutive three-pointers near the close of the quarter.

"Like he never missed a minute," observed Celtics guard Sam Cassell.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was a little more skeptical.

"You know, you don't know what happens," Jackson said. "Guys can break a shoelace and go out, the pants break down, drawstring falls apart. You don't know what happens to guys.

"Pierce was back on the floor in three minutes, so he wasn't that long out of the game. He came back and hit two threes. I think that was a big momentum change in the game."

A nice welcome back to the game and a nice welcome to the NBA Finals.

"The thing about it, a lot of it was going through my mind, and I was like, 'Man, it can't be over like this,' " Pierce said of his thoughts when first hurt.

Now, it seems like just the beginning.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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