Stud Of The Night Pau Gasol must have been tired of hearing how soft he was. The 7-foot Spanish center was muy robusto in Game 5, putting up 19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots to give Kobe Bryant the help he needed to stave off elimination and pull the Lakers within 3-2 in the series. Taking advantage of the absence of Celtics center Kendrick Perkins (shoulder), Gasol (right) went aggressively to the basket all night. He had a team-high eight points in the pivotal third quarter, when the Lakers opened up a 79-70 lead. On a night when Bryant (8-of-25 shooting) struggled once again to put the ball in the basket, Gasol helped fill the void. "I didn't want to see the Celtics celebrate on my home floor with champagne and all that crap," he said.
Dud Of The Night Maybe he's still bothered by that sore ankle. But Rajon Rondo might as well have joined fellow starter Perkins in sitting this one out. The second-year point guard missed 6-of-7 shots and finished with just three points and three assists in 14 minutes before getting the hook for good midway through the third. Left open by Bryant all night, Rondo simply did not make the Lakers pay. He then helped the Lakers break open a 65-64 game in the third by fouling Derek Fisher for a three-point play, then turning the ball over at the other end to set up an L.A. fast break that led to a Vladimir Radmanovic three-pointer and a 71-64 lead. "He's just not playing well right now," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "[But] we still believe in him."
Play Of The Night With the Celtics mounting one final charge, and the Staples crowd holding its breath, Bryant turned to his defense to help save his team's season. The Lakers led by two with 40 seconds left when the Lakers star poked the ball away from Paul Pierce (38 points) from behind at midcourt. Lamar Odom recovered the ball and quickly unfurled a pass downcourt to a streaking Bryant who soared in for a two-handed dunk and a 99-95 lead. As Rivers leapt up to call timeout, the MVP pumped his fist and the crowd roared in delight. Bryant's defensive gem was one of his five steals on the night, to go with 25 points, seven boards, and four assists (along with six turnovers), as he found a way to get it done on a night when he once again struggled to score down the stretch against Boston's stingy team defense.
Courtside Confidential Perhaps chastened by criticism from local media, the Staples crowd seemed louder and more energetic in Game 5. When the final horn sounded, purple and gold streamers fell from the ceiling. ... Odom arrived to the arena fashionably late Sunday night, strolling in at 4:45 p.m., but he was ready to play. The 6-10 forward finished with 20 points, 11 boards and four blocks. ... Ever wonder what Jack Nicholson says to the opposing coach during those breaks on the floor? "Usually he tells me his golf score from that day," Rivers said. "And I always question the number he tells me." ... Even before the game, Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic said he isn't at all deterred by the fact that no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. "I'm actually excited about it," he said as he sat at his locker stall. "Nobody has done this. We can be the first." Of course, it would help if Vujacic (four points on 2-of-10 shooting in Game 5 after going 1-of-9 in Game 4) would start hitting shots again.
Look Ahead The Lakers can breathe a sigh of relief, but they still face a massive challenge heading into Tuesday night's Game 6 in Boston. No team has ever won both Games 6 and 7 on the road in the Finals. Making the task even more daunting, the Celtics are 47-7 at TD Banknorth Garden this season -- including 12-1 in the playoffs. The good news for L.A. is that it has a little momentum again, and Perkins still might not be ready for Game 6. The status of Ray Allen, who left immediately after the game to take care of a personal family matter, also could be an X-factor. "We've won on the road before," Bryant said. "We've played in tough environments before."
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