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Thanks to Pierce, Celtics going on 18

BOSTON — Isn't this the way it's supposed to happen? The defending NBA champions with their superstar guard heading home for two elimination games.

Or the underdog team looking to pull off the ultimate trifecta of upsetting two No. 1 seeds and one No. 2 to return the championship banner to its parquet home for the second time in three years.

Such are the things that big TV ratings are made of.

The Celtics wove those storylines to reality Sunday with a 92-86 victory over the Lakers to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 (and Game 7 if necessary) will be Tuesday and Thursday in Los Angeles.

It's the first time in this series a team has won two straight and the first time in these playoffs the Lakers have been behind.

"This was huge for us," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We had to win this game. They still have two home games. … Let's hope not two."

The Celtics did it behind Paul Pierce, who played his best game since he scored 31 points against the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. Pierce had been quiet, scoring 10, 15 and 19 in the last three games.

But in this pivotal Game 5, he scored 27 on 12-of-21 shooting.

"Paul is a very deliberate player, and when he's comfortable, he can be difficult to guard," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "There are a lot of things he had as weapons out there."

The Celtics also got strong contributions from Kevin Garnett (18 points), Rajon Rondo (18) and Ray Allen (12).

The game was never really in doubt after the Celtics took control of the tempo in the third quarter. Their largest lead was 13. The Lakers never closed to less than five points.

But that didn't keep Kobe Bryant from almost single-handedly keeping the Lakers in the game. After a lackluster first half (4-of-12), he made his first seven shots of the third quarter. At one point Bryant scored 24 straight points for the Lakers spanning the second and third quarters.

"Kobe struggled in the first half, but in the second half he was his dynamic self and got us back in it," Jackson said. "He was brimming with confidence."

Bryant finished with 38 points on 13-of-26 shooting, including 4-of-9 from three-point range.

"He's the best shot maker in the game," Rivers said. "There's probably better athletes, but there is no better shot maker. I kept saying to (my assistants), 'Those are tough shots.'"

Outside of Bryant, only Pau Gasol (12) scored in double figures for the Lakers.

"The Lakers played better than us to get home-court advantage," Rivers said. "But we've played the best on the road. Our team will be ready. It'll be a hell of a challenge."

ldillman@tribune.com

jcherwa@tribune.com

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