for this game

Celtics complete historic comeback, top Lakers

Jun 13, 2008 - 6:30 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- The Boston Celtics showed the Los Angeles Lakers what a real comeback is all about.

Paul Pierce scored 20 points as the Celtics used one of the most remarkable turnarounds in league history to come away with a 97-91 victory over the Lakers in Game Four of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Boston, which climbed out of a 24-point, first-quarter hole to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. No team in Finals history has recovered from such a deficit, making the Celtics an odds-on favorite to hoist its NBA-best 17th championship trophy.

"I knew we weren't going to lay down," Pierce said.

Game Five is here on Sunday.

To get to this point, Boston erased the largest first-quarter (21) and halftime (18) deficits in Finals history in the shot-clock era.

While it took 57 points of offense in the second half, Boston won the game with inspired defense down the stretch.

"Our biggest thing is consistency on the defensive end," Garnett said. "We see ourselves as a defensive team that can score. When we got there, we relied on our defense."

The Lakers made it a one-possession game three times within the final 1:30 but could not come up with a critical defensive stop.

James Posey hit a 3-pointer, Pierce nailed two free throws and Ray Allen put in a driving layup for the Celtics during that decisive span.

Allen blew past Lakers reserve guard Sasha Vujacic, took an easy path to the rim and banked in a lefthanded layup to make it 96-91 with 16.4 seconds left and effectively seal the win.

"I just made my move, and I looked up and he was behind me and I had the whole basket clear and free," Allen said. "It worked out for me that time."

It was another remarkable in-game turnaround in this series, which saw Boston nearly blow a 24-point, fourth-quarter advantage in Game Two. Los Angeles went on a 31-9 run to cut its deficit to two points in the waning seconds of that contest.

While the Lakers would not score the rest of the way en route to a 108-102 loss in Game Two, the Celtics put the finishing touches on a remarkable win Thursday.

Garnett pulled the Celtics even with his patented fadeaway jumper with 7:12 left in the game, tying it at 77-77. But the Lakers would not go away.

Lamar Odom banked in a shot from the left side of the lane, and Kobe Bryant added a dunk in transition to give Los Angeles a quick four-point advantage with 5:48 left.

But Boston took its first lead of the game at 84-83 on reserve Eddie House's jumper with 4:05 remaining. Less than two minutes later, Garnett's short jumper completed an 8-0 run and gave the Celtics a five-point advantage with 2:11 to go.

After Pierce went 1-of-2 from the line, Bryant hit two free throws and a jumper to cut the Lakers' deficit to two with 1:30 left, setting up the wild final sequence.

"We let a huge opportunity slip away, so I'm upset, hurt, disappointed," Bryant said. "It's a huge loss, no doubt about it."

Los Angeles came out flying after a sluggish Game Three for both teams, running out to a 26-7 lead with 3:15 left in the first quarter on a 20-foot jumper by the slumping Odom, who had an extraordinary opening period.

Odom scored 13 points and made all six of his shots in the first quarter en route to 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting in the first half for Los Angeles, which took a 35-14 lead - the largest in Finals history after the first 12 minutes.

A microcosm of its performance in the first half, the Celtics' vaunted defense allowed Lakers guard Jordan Farmar to race up the court in just 5.2 seconds and bank in a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give his team a 58-40 bulge.

Boston made a frantic comeback in third quarter, outscoring Los Angeles, 31-15, in the period. The Celtics closed the quarter on an impressive 21-3 run, capped by P.J. Brown's power dunk on Bryant with 1.7 seconds left.

The spurt cut the Celtics' deficit to just two points, 73-71, entering the final period.

"We're still a fairly new team, and coming into these situations we just said, 'Just fight,'" Allen said. "'No matter what's going to happen, just fight, do what you can do, play as hard as you can play and we'll see how we end up.'

"But nobody is ever going to quit."

The extended burst set up another historic comeback for Boston, which was involved in the largest fourth quarter turnaround in playoff history - a 26-point comeback against the New Jersey Nets in Game Three of the 2002 Eastern Conference finals.

"When I look back at this season, when I look back at this series, when I look back at this game after I sit down, then I'll be able to soak it all in and really tell you how it feels," Pierce said. "Right now, I'm just happy to be up 3-1 with a chance on Sunday to close it out."

Odom collected 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who lost for the first time at home in the playoffs. The setback also was Los Angeles' first this postseason when entering the final period with a lead.

"We could talk about everything they did right," Odom said. "It's obvious."