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Beating Celtics can lift Kobe in Lakers' echelon

BOSTON - In any other year, these playoffs would have been a celebration of Kobe Bryant's greatness, which is not something to be overshadowed by talk of upcoming free agency and - incredibly - a question about where he thinks LeBron James will sign.

Bryant knows one place LeBron isn't going: the championship podium. And right now, that's the only destination that matters in Kobe's world.

But sitting at a table with his arms folded in front of him, his face expressionless and his eyes staring right through everything before him, Bryant offered a curious admission when asked how he thinks he's played so far in his eighth NBA Finals.

"I'm miserable," he said with a smile.

What could he do better?

"Not be miserable."

With Bryant, that seems harder than dealing with the waves of second and third helpers the Celtics have been sending on defense. He admitted after Game 1, "My kids are calling me Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs." But that Kobe is usually the one who scares opponents the most. That Kobe is the one who, with the series tied at 2 for tonight's Game 5 at TD Garden, is the one who has taken over four major statistical categories in the Lakers' star-studded playoff history.

Bryant is now No. 1 in points, (4,965), minutes (7,682), games played (195) and field goals made (1,771). And if he can lead his mercurial team to two more wins, he would be among Lakers greats with five or more rings, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), George Mikan (five) Michael Cooper (five) and Magic Johnson (five).

And along with that coveted fifth ring would be a shamrock tacked to his trophy wall, which may be the only thing left that officially would anoint Bryant as one of the greatest Lakers of all-time. Understand that though the Lakers have created a Yankees-like legacy that expects nothing less than championships each season, there is something a little extra special about winning one against the Celtics.

It was something that Jerry West failed to do in six tries. Bryant, who already has lost to Boston in 2008, was asked if he could go down as the best Laker ever if he doesn't beat the Celtics. "No," he replied.

But then Bryant said it wasn't important to him to have that distinction. Asked who he thinks owns the title as greatest Laker of all-time, Bryant named West "because in terms of everything that he's done, as a player and then as a general manager . . . He put the whole picture together and everything that he's done, to me, he's the greatest."

West over Magic? Magic, at least, beat the Celtics. Twice! Mikan didn't even beat the Celtics.

"What is everybody's fascination with the Celtics in terms of going down in history?" Bryant said. "It's a little weird to me."

Notes & quotes: Andrew Bynum had more fluid drained from his right knee Friday and said he is "going to be ready to go" for tonight's Game 5. Bynum's presence is critical to the Lakers because it keeps Kendrick Perkins away from Pau Gasol . . . With his fourth-quarter technical in Game 4, Rasheed Wallace collected his fifth of the postseason. One more will result in an automatic one-game suspension. Perkins had five coming into the Finals and so far, has managed to control his emotions. The Celtics can't afford to lose either at this point in the series. "Sheed is going to be all right," Perkins said. "I'm pretty sure it's not the first time he's been in this situation, so he should know how to handle himself." . . . Paul Pierce was asked what it will take for him to have a breakout scoring performance. "Just get me the ball," he said. "Like Keyshawn Johnson."


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