BOSTON - The Big Three are one win away from clinching No. 2. And Kobe Bryant is realizing he can't get his fifth championship ring by himself.
Paul Pierce ripped a rebound out of Bryant's hands after a critical free-throw miss by Ron Artest in the final minute and then allowed himself a smile. Suddenly, it feels just like 2008, when Pierce and the Celtics overwhelmed Bryant and the Lakers for the championship. Last night's 92-86 win in Game 5 at TD Garden gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead in this series, which now returns to Los Angeles for Game 6 Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Celtics, who won Game 2 there, have two chances to win their second championship in three years and 18th overall. And don't think there won't be some satisfaction in winning it on the Staples Center floor.
"This was the biggest game of the year and every game gets bigger," said Pierce, who finished with 27 points. "We've just gotta get one."
Kobe Bryant, who scored 38 points (19 in the third quarter) in yet another singular effort in this series, tried to shrug off the fact that he was facing elimination.
"It is what it is," he said. "Now you go home . . . pull your boots up and get to work."
Despite a troubling offensive performance by everyone not named Kobe, the Lakers still had it down to a two-possession game with less than a minute left. Phil Jackson made sure to point out to his team during a timeout that the Celtics have blown more fourth-quarter leads than any team in the NBA this season. "And they're showing us that now," Jackson told his team.
Asked for his reaction to Jackson's statement to his team, Pierce replied, "He's right."
Just not on this night. Artest was at the line with 43.3 seconds left with the Lakers trailing 87-82 but missed both free throws. Rajon Rondo then finished a long pass from Pierce for an acrobatic catch-and-layup with 35.2 seconds left to put it back to seven, but it was back to five after a rebound by Andrew Bynum. The Celtics got the ball to Ray Allen on the ensuing possession and Allen was fouled and drilled both free throws with 18.4 seconds left to put it away.
Rondo had 18 points and Kevin Garnett had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals and kept Pau Gasol (12 points) in check. No other Laker scored in double figures, as the team shot 39.7 percent from the field. The Celtics shot 56.3 percent and Bryant felt that was the bigger issue.
"You can't survive when a team shoots 56 percent," he said.
But also for too much of the game - especially the middle - Kobe was all of the Lakers' offense. He scored 23 straight points for the Lakers, with 19 straight coming in the third quarter. He shot 7-for-9 from the field and hit all three of his three-point attempts in the quarter. His teammates were a combined 3-for-10. Gasol, who struggled to make any impact on this game, missed 4 of 6 in the quarter and had one attempt blocked from behind by 6-4 Tony Allen.
It wasn't just Gasol. Lamar Odom (eight points) and Artest (seven) had very little impact on the game. The Lakers' bench continues to offer nothing.
Bryant was asked if he needed to address the team going into Game 6. "Just man up and play," Bryant said. "What the hell is the big deal? If I have to say anything, then they don't deserve to be champions."
Notes & quotes: Bryant's 19-point third quarter wasn't an NBA Finals record. That came in the 1988 Finals, when Isiah Thomas, on a severely sprained ankle, poured in 25 points in the third quarter of Detroit's Game 6 loss against the Lakers.