Studs Of The Night The Big Three were too much for the Big One. Paul Pierce (20 points, seven assists), Ray Allen (19 points, nine rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (16 points, 11 rebounds) led the way, as the Celtics staged the greatest comeback in Finals history to stun Kobe Bryant's Lakers and take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Despite trailing by 24 points in the first half, and 20 early in the third, Boston's three leaders refused to quit. Pierce woke up from a first-quarter slumber to score 14 second-half points and help put the clamps on Bryant (17 points, 10 assists). Garnett (right) did his usual yeoman work on defense and the boards. Allen hit a slew of big shots -- including the backbreaker -- and made plays throughout the game. On this night, the Big Three just weren't going to be denied.
Dud Of The Night We're tempted to go with Lamar Odom, who disappeared in the second half after an incredible first 24 minutes (15 points, eight boards, three assists). But at least he did something. Sasha Vujacic, the surprise hero of Game 3, did nothing at all -- and certainly did not come close to duplicating that performance on Thursday night. The 6-foot-7 Slovenian reserve guard missed eight of nine shots, including 4-of-5 from three-point range, finishing with just three points. He added just three boards and a lone assist in 23 minutes. Perhaps most embarrassingly, he allowed Allen to blow past him for that back-breaking layup in the closing seconds (see below). On a night when Bryant hit just 6-of-19 shots against Boston's swarming team defense, the Lakers couldn't afford to have The Machine crash and burn like that.
Unsung Hero Of The Night James Posey helped the Heat win a title in '06 with his stifling defense and timely contributions off the bench. Now the veteran guard is on the verge of getting another ring. The 6-foot-7 forward helped turn the tide in Game 4 with a monster effort that included 18 points (on 5-of-10 shooting) and pesky D on Bryant for key stretches. Posey joined with Eddie House (11 points) to help spark a 23-5 run for the Celtics to close out the third quarter and put Boston within striking range. He then helped seal the deal with two big three-pointers in the fourth, including a corner dagger to put Boston ahead 92-87 with 1:13 left.
Play Of The Night With the desperate Lakers making one final stand, Allen delivered the knockout blow. After a dunk by Pau Gasol had pulled L.A. within three late in the game, the savvy vet took the ball and dribbled it up-court against ferocious pressure. With the Staples crowd holding its breath, he fended off Vujacic and dribbled down the clock at midcourt while waiting for his team's play to develop. Sensing his advantage, Allen waved off a high screen from Garnett and dribbled left. He then blew right past Vujacic and a slow-to-rotate Gasol to the basket, switching the ball left to right, before sinking the shot to put Boston ahead 96-91 with 16.4 seconds left. Game, set, match.
Courtside Confidential The Staples Center crowd was louder Thursday night than in Game 3, but there was a sizable contingent of Celtics fans that made their presence felt throughout the game. Those cheers were especially noticeable at end of game, as a hush fell over the arena. ... Spike Lee, sporting a Yankees jersey, was in his baseline seat a half-hour before the game. Lee said he was rooting for the Lakers, because, of course, he couldn't root for Boston. ... Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, David Beckham and Larry David were among the other celebrities in Thursday's crowd. ... During David Stern's pre-game press conference about the Tim Donaghy situation, security guards had to shut the door to the interview room because the Lakers girls were doing a boisterous pre-game, get-fired-up circle. ... During pre-game introductions, video clips of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry were projected on a circular silk-like video screen dropped from the center court scoreboard. ... As the crowd was filtering out of the arena, an usher summed up the feelings of Lakers fans when she turned to another usher and said, "Can you believe that?"
Look Ahead If Bryant wants to be compared to Michael Jordan, here's his chance to prove it. The Lakers superstar can do something His Airness never did (or needed to), if he can somehow lead his team back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA title. No team has ever come back from such a hole to win the Finals, and only eight teams in playoff history have done so. Meanwhile, the Celtics will head into Sunday night's Game 5 with a ton of momentum and a 17th NBA championship in their sights. "Our backs are against the wall," Lakers coach Phil Jackson admitted.
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