BOSTON -- The Lakers had lost by 39 points the last time they were at TD Garden for an NBA Finals game, but at halftime Tuesday night they had a double-digit lead and looked primed to take control of the series. The raucous Boston crowd had been silenced by Kobe Bryant, who led all scorers through the first two quarters with 16 points and had racked up a Rajon Rondo-like line that included six boards, three assists, two blocks and one steal.
It looked like one of those classic Kobe nights, this time in the Finals, on the floor of the Lakers' most hated rival.
But just as Ray Allen played Jekyll and Hyde, going from a Finals-record eight 3-pointers Sunday to an abysmal 0-for-13 in Game 3, so did Bryant suffer his own unfortunate turnaround. His opening, which had been so grand, fell flat down the stretch, as he choked in his familiar closer's role and shot just 1-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter.
Outside of a bounce-back game from Kevin Garnett, Allen got little help on the night. Bryant, on the other hand, was lifted up by a troop of teammates who filled in, acting as the Lakers' bullpen by committee and leading Los Angeles to a 91-84 victory and a 2-1 series lead.
While Kobe was clanking, Derek Fisher was connecting, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the final period on 5-of-7 shooting.
"We saw some things we could accomplish by playing a little two-man game between Kobe and myself," Fisher said. "When Kobe sets a screen, his man is going to be very reluctant to help off him, so it allows somebody else to get into the interior of their defense, and a couple times I made a pass or two and a few other times I was able to knock down shots."
While Bryant was getting doubled, Lamar Odom was on glass duty, coming up with two big boards, including one on the offensive end.
Kobe had helped the Lakers achieve a 17-point lead in the first half. Fish and L.O. helped him withstand a second-half Boston charge and hang on for the victory.
"That's the type of team that we have," said Odom, who had four of his 12 points and two of his five rebounds in the fourth. "Even when Kob' is on, you still need deflections, you still need stops, you still need rebounds, you still need guys to make plays, especially when he gets doubled. It takes a team to win, even though Kob' of course does so much for us all the time."
While the Mamba was missing in action, Ron Artest was deflecting a ball out of bounds off Glen "Big Baby" Davis to pick up an extra possession for L.A. with 4:43 remaining.
"I just stayed in the game defensively, I stayed Ron Artest," said the guy who referred to himself in the third person. "I had a Ron Artest play in the end."
While Bryant struggled, Pau Gasol thrived (for the third straight game), hitting a turnaround jumper with 2:18 remaining to put the Lakers back up by four, after Garnett had cut the lead to two with a turnaround jumper of his own.
Seven times in the fourth quarter the Celtics were able to cut the Lakers' lead down to three points or fewer. Four of those times Fisher responded with a bucket. Once it was Odom. Gasol did it the sixth time and Bryant brought out a little of that Mamba magic the seventh and final time (his one basket of the quarter being a pull-up jumper from 15 feet out to put the Lakers back up by four with 1:41 remaining).
"Those little things get it done," Bryant said after finishing with a game-high 29 points but taking 29 shots to do so. "They weren't going to let me beat them down the stretch. It was important for everybody to make plays and our guys made plays. Lamar made a big play, Pau made big shots, Derek obviously made big shots and that's what we have to do."
Bryant, humble and grateful for what his teammates achieved, wasn't as surly and curt as usual after the game.
As the last player to take the podium, he praised Fisher, calling him the team's vocal leader, and even showed some humor describing the relationship between him and Fish: "He's really the only one I listen to," Bryant said, "everybody else is a bunch of young kids."
He left reporters with full notebooks and no one-word answers, coming up as a clutch closer after all.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten