for this game

Celtics edge Lakers, take Game One of NBA Finals

Jun 6, 2008 - 6:35 AM BOSTON (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce made a miraculous recovery, and so did Kevin Garnett.

Pierce gave his team an emotional lift after returning from an injury and Garnett was uncharacteristically huge down the stretch as the Boston Celtics surged to an emotional 98-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the NBA Finals at TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night.

After being carted off in a wheelchair with a sprained right knee midway through the third quarter, Pierce returned moments later and scored 15 of his 22 points in the third to help the Celtics outscore the Lakers, 31-22, in that period.

"The thing about it, a lot of it was going through my mind, and I was like, 'It can't be over like this,'" Pierce said. "I think God just sent this angel down and said, 'Hey, you're going to be all right. You need to get back out there, show them what you've got."

Garnett had 24 points and 13 rebounds for Boston, which will host Game Two here on Sunday.

"We have to obviously make some adjustments and make plans to win Game Two from here," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "I don't know if we really get too caught up in the final result in terms of losing the game as opposed to looking at some of the things that we can drastically improve in."

Pierce fell to the floor after banging into teammate Kendrick Perkins while the pair was trying to defend a fadeaway jumper by Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. Pierce had to be carried off the floor and was taken to the locker room in a wheelchair.

"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. "And at that point, I thought ... I tore something. That's the way I felt at the time. Usually when I go down, I'm getting right back up, but it was an instance where I turned my knee, and it popped, heard it pop, and I was just in pain where I just couldn't move."

But Pierce, sporting a sleeve on the injured knee, came running out as the crowd cheered wildly and checked back into the game with 5:04 left in third.

"We saw him being carried off and we didn't know what the situation was," Garnett said. "We kept asking, was he all right? (Coach Doc Rivers) was trying to get us back to the huddle. One thing we know about (Pierce) is, he's very tough, and we've seen him play through numerous injuries throughout the season."

He rode that adrenaline and made an immediate impact, drilling back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Celtics a 75-71 lead with 1:04 left in third.

"Well, obviously it was great to see him come back, and obviously we were concerned when he went down," Rivers said. "A guy grabs his knee, you know, there's no good thoughts. I was really proud, honestly, of our team during the stretch when he was in the locker room.

"I thought that was the biggest part of the game. We could have easily felt sorry for ourselves. We actually made a little run there. But then when he came out, he was big for us. Obviously him coming back lifted us up. But I thought the stretch where he was out, we didn't show any panic ... was really good for our team."

But it was Garnett's play in the fourth that sealed the win for Boston.

Clinging to a tenuous six-point lead late in the fourth, the Celtics swung the ball into the left corner to James Posey, who misfired on a 3-pointer, setting up Garnett's high-flying putback dunk over Pau Gasol to give his team a 94-86 advantage with 1:32 left.

Bryant added two free throws, but Garnett came back aggressively on the ensuing possession, forcing the ball to the right baseline, drawing a foul and converting two free throws to make it 96-88 with 1:01 to go.

It was an important stretch for Garnett, who has been maligned for his inability to come through late in big games. He added to that reputation in this one, missing eight straight shots at one point in the fourth quarter before the strong finish.

Garnett was hard on himself after the game.

"Terrible," Garnett said of his performance. "My fourth quarter was plain out terrible, I'll be honest. I thought I got my hands on loose balls, a lot of shots I knew I could make, rhythm shots, and I just missed them. I thought I was active, I was talkative, but I could be better, and I will be."

But the most memorable part of the game was Pierce's return, which evoked memories of the New York Knicks' Willis Reed limping onto the court at Madison Square Garden before Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals.

In that one, Reed hit his first two shots but was not heard from again. Pierce, on the other hand, took off after the injury, finishing with 15 points in the third quarter and giving the home crowd a reason to get riled up.

"I wasn't trying to imitate him," Pierce said of Reed. "It was a situation where that's where I was. I got hurt, came back, jumped out there. I don't know what to say, just glad that I was able to get back out there.

Boston carried that momentum into the final period, taking its largest lead of the game to that point on a shot from the arc by Posey, which made it 86-78 with 8:44 left.

It was the Celtics' first Finals game since 1987, when these teams last met on the NBA's biggest stage.

Los Angeles, which has won three titles earlier this decade, had tasted success since hoisting the trophy five times in the 1980s. But it always seemed to be a sweeter victory against its hated rival.

The two historic franchises had met 10 times in the Finals entering this season, with Boston emerging victorious eight times. In fact, prior to the Lakers' emotional wins in 1985 and 1987, the Celtics won the first eight times the teams squared off in the championship series.

But all the history, old footage and aging legends mattered little when the teams took the court on Thursday. It was about the new generation of stars for each club - most notably Boston's "Big Three" and Los Angeles' Bryant.

Bryant, for his part, did not want to talk much about the hype surrounding this series after the loss.

"Just do what we normally do, come back and practice the next couple days, tweak some things, get ready for Game Two," Bryant said of the team's plans heading into Sunday's contest.

The Celtics' star trio of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen each played in their first Finals game, while Bryant competed in his first without Shaquille O'Neal by his side.

Bryant, who scored just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in the first half, tried to get his teammates involved from the outset.

That unselfish attitude is part of what earned him his first league Most Valuable Player Award this season despite it not being his best statistical campaign. It also seems to have forged a bond among the Lakers - at least on the court.

And it was most evident late in the first half, when Bryant - who is known for hoisting up shots in bunches - passed up a wide-open 3-pointer, drew Garnett out to him and dished off to Gasol, who was fouled.

The ensuing two free throws gave Los Angeles a 49-44 lead with 1:36 left before halftime, when the Lakers held a 51-46 lead. But Bryant, who scored 24 points on 9-of-26 shooting, was forced to be a one-man show by the Celtics' defense in the second half.

"We got a little stagnant," Bryant said. "I think our rhythm wasn't there, wasn't what we like it to be. Still, we played well enough to almost steal the game - some balls bounced their way tonight. They scrapped and they clawed their way to this victory."

Boston also was buoyed by Allen, who scored 19 points to help his team to its fourth straight Game One victory this postseason.

Gasol and Fisher scored 15 points apiece for the Lakers, who were outrebounded, 46-33.

"They finished the game strong and they rebounded the ball better than we did tonight," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of the Celtics. "We'll have to do a better job there."