Celts withstand Lakers' late Game 2 run behind Pierce, defense

BOSTON (AP) -- The Boston Celtics left the comforts of home exalted and exhausted, halfway to hoisting a 17th NBA championship banner.

They're up 2-0 in the NBA Finals.

But they needed some of their leprechaun's luck to get there.

Paul Pierce, darting around the parquet floor with ease, scored 28 points, unknown Leon Powe added 21 and the Celtics held off a remarkable rally by Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers for a 108-102 win Sunday night in Game 2 of these trip-down-memory-lane Finals.

The Celtics had to work every second to get the win.

Up by 24 points in the fourth quarter, they nearly blew it.

"We're happy because we won, but we definitely learned a lesson," Pierce said.

The Lakers trailed 95-71 with less than 8 minutes to go, but used a 31-9 run to pull to 104-102 on two free throws by Bryant with 38.4 seconds left. Pierce, though, made two free throws, then blocked a 3-pointer by Sasha Vujacic, and James Posey made two free throws with 12.6 seconds left to ice it for Boston.

"We've got to play through the game for 48 minutes, and I didn't think we did that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought we got cute when we got the lead."

The Lakers, who dropped 41 points on the league's defensive team in the final 12 minutes, simply ran out of time.

"It's something that we can take from," Bryant said of the furious but failed comeback. "We played with a sense of desperation and aggression. I think that's something to take home and learn from."

Boston enjoyed a huge free-throw advantage, going 27-for-38 from the foul line, while the Lakers were just 10-for-10.

The whistles were one-sided.

"I didn't notice," Bryant said, cracking a smile.

Pierce wasn't slowed by a sprained right knee suffered in the series opener, when he was carried from the court and plopped into a wheelchair. The Boston captain paced the Celtics, who are back in the Finals for the first since 1987, when Larry Bird was the main man and gasoline cost 91 cents per gallon.

As usual, Boston's Big Three -- Pierce, Ray Allen (17 points) and Kevin Garnett (17) -- were the ringleaders but Powe, a second-year reserve had the game of his career, adding his 21 points in 15 minutes that may make him a Celtics fan-favorite for life.

Powe, who played a total of 68 seconds during one stretch of 13 games during the season, scored six points to close a 15-2 run ending the third quarter that gave the Celtics a 22-point lead. The quick burst had the Lakers California dreaming. At one point in the fourth quarter, Boston fans discarded the familiar chants of "Beat L.A." for cries of "Le-on Powe!"

"He was terrific," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

Rajon Rondo had a career-high 16 assists and Garnett added 14 rebounds for the Celtics, back in the Finals for the first time since 1987.

Game 3 is Tuesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Lakers are 8-0 in the postseason and have won 14 in a row at home since March 28. Bryant had better hope the rims there are a little kinder than the ones in TD Banknorth Garden.

Bryant, who pledged to bounce back from a sub-par Game 1, scored 30 points -- 13 in the fourth -- on 11-of-23 shooting. In four losses to Boston this season, Bryant is just 35-of-93 from the field and can't seem to get the same easy looks he enjoys against every other team.

Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who were so far down in the fourth that many of their purple-and-gold clad fans who came to cheer them on, headed toward the exits and maybe to Logan Airport for the trip out West.

But Bryant brought them back -- almost all the way.

His 3-pointer made it 102-91 and then the self-proclaimed "Black Mamba" slithered down the lane for two quick baskets that got the Lakers within 104-95. The Celtics, meanwhile, began to stand around on offense, thinking the game was in hand.

It was anything but.

After Vujacic hit a 3-pointer, Vladimir Radmanovic made a steal and dunk to make it 104-100 and Celtics fans, who had been dancing moments earlier, began to panic. None of Boston's players seemed to want the ball as it moved around like a hot potato before Rondo missed a jumper with 44 seconds left.

Bryant's free throws brought Los Angeles to 104-102 before Pierce slashed down the lane and got fouled by Derek Fisher. As a few of his teammates locked arms on the bench like a college team trying to advance in March, Pierce knocked down both foul shots. Then, on defense, he got just enough of Vujacic's shot from the left wing with 14 seconds left.

Posey was fouled on the play and calmly made his two free throws. The Lakers rushed the ball down but missed on a couple jumpers, and when the final horn sounded, a collective sigh of relief rushed through the exits as the Celtics and their fans left the building confident, if not shaken.

"We're not settling on a 2-0 lead," Garnett said. "We want to go out there and win two games in L.A."

Called "unstoppable" by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Bryant got off to another slow start. He missed his first two shots, one an uncontested layup underneath and was unable to get the looks he wanted as the Celtics followed the MVP around like a pack of hungry wolves on the hunt.

Bryant was just 1-of-4 from the floor when he was called for pushing off on Allen -- his second personal foul -- and spent the final 1:59 of the opening period a few seats away from Jackson. Soon, Bryant was joined by Lamar Odom and Jackson was forced to give his reserves extended early minutes.

They weren't good ones.

The Lakers' heralded bench bunch struggled, and the Celtics took advantage. Trailing by two after one, Boston opened the second quarter with a 10-0 run, capped by Pierce's 3-pointer. As bad as Los Angeles was playing, the Lakers hung around and closed within 41-37 on Gasol's three-point play.

But Pierce knocked down another 3, Allen followed with one of his own and the Celtics closed the half with a 13-5 burst to open a 54-42 halftime lead.

Game notes
Jackson, a renowned world traveler who often reviews trips to his destinations, was asked for an overview of his extended stay in Boston, where the weather this week ranged from chilly, October-like conditions to sweltering heat. "It's very green," Jackson deadpanned, drawing laughter at the reference to the Celtics' primary colors. "Boston Commons, the Public Gardens. Very green." ... Among the celebrities in attendance: Boston Red Sox Curt Schilling -- wearing a Larry Bird jersey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, NFL quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Vince Young and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Lester, a cancer survivor who recently pitched a no-hitter, was honored during a timeout in the second quarter.