Reporting from Boston
Paul Pierce raised his right index finger and yelled out "One more, baby!" as he walked off the court, surrounded by a mob of TV cameras as adoring Boston Celtics fans cheered wildly.
No, this wasn't the way the Lakers wanted to return to Los Angeles, overpowered and outmuscled by a more physical team in a 92-86 loss in Game 5 that had them standing near the cliff of elimination in the NBA Finals.
The game was more of a gap than the scoreboard offered, the Lakers never leading after 37-36 and nobody other than Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol scoring in double figures for them, the latter barely doing it with an underwhelming 12-point effort.
Celtics fans hoped for the best, maybe even sensed it, and tried to give their team a lasting soundtrack, hauntingly chanting, "Beat L.A." over and over after the final seconds ticked down at TD Garden and the Celtics had taken a 3-2 lead.
Game 6 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at Staples Center, where the Lakers are 9-1 in the playoffs, their lone mistake coming in Game 2 against Boston. Game 7, if necessary, would be Thursday at Staples Center.
Bryant had 38 points but didn't get much assistance. The Lakers had only 12 assists, the game basically turning into Bryant all by himself, for better or worse.
Ron Artest was poor on offense, yet again, scoring seven points on two-for-nine shooting and experiencing an equally bad defensive game as Pierce scored 27 points.
Andrew Bynum tried to play despite a sore right knee but had only six points and one rebound in almost 32 minutes.
Lamar Odom battled flu symptoms and again fell into single-single territory, totaling eight points and eight rebounds. He has yet to take 10 rebounds in a game this series.
The Lakers now trail in a series for the first time this postseason after scoring their fewest points of the playoffs.
Still, Bryant wasn't exactly lacking confidence when asked how certain he was that the Lakers could win the next two games.
"I'm not very confident at all," he said dryly, leading to laughter among reporters.
Added Coach Phil Jackson: "I thought we had a spirited locker room at the end of our [postgame] session there."
How disjointed were the Lakers during the game?
A few minutes into the third quarter, as they fell behind by 11, Jackson called timeout and yelled at Bryant on the court. Jackson continued to yell at him as Bryant sat down on the bench.
And to think Bryant was the only Lakers player who had a decent game.
In fact, he had 19 points on seven-for-nine shooting in the third quarter, helping keep the Lakers within 73-65 going into the fourth.
"He's the best shot-maker in the game," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said.
Not so in the first half, Bryant scoring only 10 points on four-for-12 shooting. He had to have his right ankle re-taped at halftime after it was "tweaked a little bit," he said, declining to add any specifics.
Bryant took some ill-advised shots, but how unsupportive was his cast? He was the only Lakers player in double-figure scoring until Gasol made a free throw with 2:25 to play.
The Lakers shot only 39.7% and were drilled in points in the paint, 46-32, but they had their chances in the fourth quarter, pulling within 87-82 on three free throws by Bryant with 1:30 left.
Then Derek Fisher somehow outleaped Kevin Garnett on a jump ball at the other end, and Bryant found Artest behind the Celtics' defense, but Artest missed two free throws after being fouled with 43.3 seconds left.
"You know, Ron had an opportunity," Jackson said. "But we couldn't make the play on that."
If the Lakers weren't done at that point, they were finished seconds later, Rajon Rondo scoring on a reverse layup after Pierce found him while falling out of bounds near midcourt.
Jackson tried just about everything for motivation in the fourth quarter, even saying during a timeout that the Celtics had coughed up several late leads throughout the season, words picked up by an ABC microphone.
To which Pierce replied, "He's right."
Jackson was wrong Sunday. One more loss ends the Lakers' season.
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