for this game

Lakers hold off Celtics in must-win Game Three

Jun 11, 2008 - 6:02 AM By Jonathan Raber PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- It wasn't pretty, but then again, ugly is all it takes.

Kobe Bryant scored 36 points and Sasha Vujacic added a playoff career-high 20 off the bench as the Los Angeles Lakers executed down the stretch en route to a crucial 87-81 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night.

"We didn't play a great game," Vujacic said. "We didn't play even good. We were just fighting, and that was the key."

Bryant torched Ray Allen for two crucial buckets in the final 1:06 for the Lakers, who trail the Celtics, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series.

With the rest of the starters struggling, Bryant and Vujacic were the lone double-figure scorers for Los Angeles, which improved to 9-0 at Staples Center this postseason - one shy of tying the NBA record for consecutive home victories in the playoffs.

"If you can win an ugly game, without playing a good game, then you might be able to do some good things," Lakers forward Luke Walton said.

Still, the Lakers face an uphill battle in their quest for the title. Only three teams have lost the first two contests in the championship series and recovered to win it all. Los Angeles will try to take a step toward becoming the fourth in Game Four here on Thursday.

It bodes well for the Lakers that Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol each had off nights and they still were able to record the win. The 7-foot Gasol managed just nine points, while Odom, who battled foul trouble, scored just four.

"It was one of those nights that we came back to Staples Center after playing two games in Boston, so we have to adjust," Vujacic said. "Sometimes, the shots are not going to go in, sometimes they're going to go in."

Ironically, the Celtics were in the same boat.

Ray Allen tried to pick up the slack for Boston's slumping "Big Three." He scored 25 points, including four 3-pointers, but Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce combined for just 19. Garnett was 6-of-21 from the floor and Pierce was even worse, shooting 2-of-14.

"I was trying to just keep the team in it, trying to put as much energy as I could out there," Allen said. "It just seemed like offensively I was just trying to give us a boost of adrenaline out there."

Things looked bleak for the Lakers in the third quarter, when the Celtics dug themselves out of an early double-digit hole to take a four-point lead on consecutive baskets from Garnett.

Allen had 10 points in the quarter, but it came at a high cost as point guard Rajon Rondo went down early in the period with an injured ankle and was limited to three minutes in the fourth quarter.

Bryant and Vujacic would then take over down the stretch.

After Boston had gotten to within two points on Garnett's spinning bank shot, Vujacic responded with a 3-pointer from the wing en route to a 81-76 advantage for Los Angeles.

"Those are the shots I live for," Vujacic said.

After two free throws by Derek Fisher, Bryant nailed a jumper near the top of the key and followed it up with a leaner in the lane with 38 seconds remaining to provide the final margin.

"I just went and had the confidence that, once I get in there, I'll be able to make the right play and, hopefully, some of the whistles will go our way," Bryant said. "If they collapse, I'll hit my shooters."

It was much-needed win for Los Angeles, which nearly erased a 24-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a 108-102 loss in Sunday's Game Two. But it was ultimately done in by its lack of aggressiveness, shooting just 10 free throws, while Boston was 27-of-38 from the line.

The free-throw turnaround came just hours after disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy told federal investigators that officials altered the outcomes of playoff series in 2002 and 2005.

But the Celtics still are confident in their chances to wrap up the series before it heads back to Boston.

"Our job is to come out here and get two wins. That's our focus, and we're not backing down from that," Pierce said. "We're still a confident group. We still feel like we're the better team and we're going to play better out here in L.A. the next couple of games."