LOS ANGELES - In the quiet of the stunned Staples Center, Paul Pierce finally peeked at the scoreboard in triumph.
Flexing his arms after beating the team he grew up idolizing, Pierce celebrated leading Boston back from an unprecedented deficit to a 97-91 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA finals Thursday night.
“It’s a dream if I can come out here and win on Sunday,” said Pierce, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half, when the Celtics erased most of a 24-point deficit. “It’s definitely a great win, one that you’re going to put up there in the library and break back out one day for your kids to watch. But I want nothing more than that ring right now and I’m not going to get overexcited.”
The longest-tenured member of the Celtics, Pierce lived through two failed rebuilding efforts before last season’s overhaul teamed him with fellow All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in a modern-day Big Three.
Now they’re one game away — Game 5 is Sunday in Los Angeles — from the Celtics’ 17th NBA title and their first since the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
“We’re obviously one win away from our goal, and that’s the focus. Nothing more, nothing less than that,” said Garnett, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Eddie House scored nine of his 11 points in the second half, including a baseline jumper with 4:07 left to give Boston its first lead of the game, 84-83. Allen, who had 19 points and nine rebounds, followed with a drive along the baseline for a reverse layup under the flailing arms of the defenders.
Pierce then grabbed a rebound after Jordan Farmar missed a 3-pointer, and he hit three of four free throws down the stretch to help ice it. For the Celtics, who trailed by an NBA-record 21 points after the first quarter, it was the end of a remarkable comeback.
“We said coming out of the third quarter that regardless of what the score is, we’re not going to look. We’re just going to go out, and play and compete,” Pierce said. “We just went out there and played as hard as we could, and we believed and we stuck together and was able to pull off this win. Incredible.”
The Celtics captain also proved his worth on defense, asking to guard Lakers star Kobe Bryant and holding him to 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting.
“Paul came to me at halftime and said, ’I want to guard Kobe. Let me guard him,”’ Rivers said. “I think people will look at his offense, but I thought we won the game because Paul was a tremendous defensive player tonight.”
Pierce, who had not committed a foul in the first half, said he thought he could use that to his advantage against Bryant.
“I felt like I could be a little bit more physical on him,” Pierce said. “The whole thing is, it’s hard to stop a player like Kobe Bryant. He’s the MVP, numerous scoring titles. If I can go out there and make him work for everything he got, you give yourselves a chance, and that’s all I wanted to do.”
Allen had guarded Bryant in the first half and held him to 0-for-4 shooting. But Pierce, a little taller and a little stronger, was able to keep the MVP from taking over the game.
“I would have suggested it a long time ago,” Allen said. “But it took for Paul to say, ’Let me guard him.’ When he said that, I knew he wanted him, and he was ready for the challenge, and I was like, ’Let’s do it. Take him.”’
No team had ever overcome a first-quarter deficit of more than 15 points in the NBA finals and won.
“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.”
PBT: The Pacers defeated the Heat 97-93 in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1, which now shifts to Indiana.
Images from historic matchup of Lakers, Celtics
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
DPS: Is it really all about the rings?
DPS: Dan Patrick talks about Phil Jackson's comments about starting a team with Bill Russell now because of his championships and brings up the great question of, if it's all about championships, how come we don't talk about guys like Sam Jones, Frank Ramsey or John Havlicek who all have multiple rings?
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