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Heroics just elude Pierce

GAME 5: LAKERS 103, CELTICS 98

June 16, 2008|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

Purple and gold confetti shouldn't have fallen from the Staples Center's rafters Sunday.

Not if everything had gone according to Paul Pierce's plans.

Pierce could have been celebrating in his hometown, reining in an NBA championship and cementing a new legacy for a storied Boston franchise.

But all the would-haves, could-haves and should-haves did not mask what did happen Sunday.

Pierce played all but two seconds, ending with a game-high 38 points, making 16 of 19 free throws and also shoveling out eight assists.

"I always leave it on the court," Pierce said.

But in Game 5, he also left something else on the court a couple of times.

His output will also be defined by Kobe Bryant's poking the ball loose from him at the top of the key with 40.9 seconds remaining, Lamar Odom sending it the other way and Bryant eventually dunking it home to provide the Lakers with a four-point margin and for all intents a victory.

"He made a heck of a steal," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said of Bryant. "We like[d] the numbers and the way the floor was spread. He made a -- really -- last-ditch effort because Paul had him beat. Kevin [Garnett] set what we call a 'flash screen,' Paul had him beat, Kevin was rolling, and Kobe -- it's not like he gambled. He had no choice.

"He just came from behind and got a piece of the ball. So give him the credit; he made a hell of a play."

Only Bryant had done the same almost two minutes earlier, again prying the ball loose from Pierce.

"He made two big steals there in the fourth quarter that I shouldn't have allowed," Pierce said. "It definitely hurts, tough one to swallow, and we'll just try to get the next one at home."

Said Bryant: "Paul is such a big body, and he protects the ball extremely well. As soon as I noticed the ball was exposed just a little bit, it was important for me to go after it."

Before that, it appeared Pierce may have been on his way to the podium to accept a Finals most-valuable-player award.

He only scored five points in the first quarter and then went to the high screens with Garnett later, turning the game into his personal free-throw parade.

"He attacks, he's aggressive, physical," teammate PJ. Brown said. "Unfortunately we couldn't get it done for him."

Now, the Celtics' own parade waits and a tough turnaround for Tuesday's Game 6 in Boston looms.

"It's as tough as you can have," Rivers said. "I think going west to east is tougher. Sleep patterns are messed up. It's a tough one. There's no way around it."

And there was no way Pierce could get around Bryant when it mattered most on Sunday.

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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