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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kobe's brilliant run has Lakers in finals

LOS ANGELES (AP) Among Kobe Bryant's myriad of inimitable talents is what's known to opposing coaches simply as the "rise-up."

That's when Bryant has a defender blanketing him on the perimeter, obstructing his vision and physically preventing him from driving — yet Kobe simply leaps high enough and leans far enough forward or backward to release a perfect jumper anyway.

Bryant rose up against Grant Hill in the final minute of the Los Angeles Lakers' conference-clinching victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, putting his stamp on a 37-point performance that sent the Lakers into the NBA finals with a chance for revenge on the Boston Celtics.

Even with Hill right in his grill, Bryant leaped up and away from the veteran forward and drilled a clinching 23-footer. The basket essentially clinched the Lakers' victory, and Bryant punctuated it with a pat on Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry's derriere.

"I said, 'Good defense,' to Grant," Gentry recalled with a rueful smile. "(Bryant) said, 'Not quite good enough.' . . . I thought Grant was going to block the shot. That was a fallaway 3-pointer with a hand in your face, off balance. You know, that's who he is. That really is who he is."

Bryant is enjoying arguably the most impressive playoff run of his career, and not because his numbers are any larger than in a previous postseason. He has scored 30 points in 10 of the Lakers' last 11 games — and moreover, he has willed a team with an injured center, two more inconsistent starters and little bench help beyond Lamar Odom into its third straight NBA Finals, starting Thursday night at Staples Center.

Although Bryant claimed he didn't care who the Lakers played in the finals, Bryant sometimes isn't exactly forthcoming about either his injuries or his passions. It's tough to believe Bryant isn't thrilled by the chance to cap another stirring playoff run with a revenge victory over his franchise's biggest playoff rival, which sent Bryant home from the finals two years ago.

"It's a sexy matchup," Bryant acknowledged. "We're looking forward to this challenge, looking forward to the test."

Celtics look to bench

BOSTON (AP) When Paul Pierce and Boston's other starters need a rest in the NBA finals, they can watch their replacements with confidence.

Just as they did two years ago against the same opponent.

Two years ago, when the Celtics won their 17th title by beating the Los Angeles Lakers.

Boston's key backups have changed since then. The importance of their contributions hasn't.

"Somewhere along the line these guys that are role players that people don't really talk about come along and help us win games," Pierce said. "They really get overlooked."

The Celtics, who return to practice Monday after a two-day break, have the same starting playoff five for Thursday night's opener at Los Angeles that they had the past two years, a source of comfort for coach Doc Rivers.

That group has led them to playoff victories in five games over Miami and six each over Cleveland and Orlando this year. But through that run, substitutes Rasheed Wallace, Glen 'Big Baby' Davis, Tony Allen and Nate Robinson have had their moments — and more.

The latest and most surprising? Robinson's 13 second-quarter points in Friday night's 96-84 win over the Magic in Game 6 that sent the Celtics to the final round.

In Boston's other 16 playoff games, Rivers didn't use the 175-cm leaper and long-range shooter in seven of them and played him for more than nine minutes just once even though he was healthy. In the 26 games Robinson played after being traded by New York on Feb. 18, he averaged only 14.7 minutes.

"I told him at some point it was going to happen for him and it was all up to him to stay engaged," Rivers said. "And he did. I get no credit out of this."

In 2008, it was James Posey, P.J. Brown, Leon Powe, Eddie House and Sam Cassell who watched the opening tips from the bench. But by the final buzzer, their performances — the numbers that show up in the box score and the defensive play that statistics don't fully measure — were significant.

That year, Los Angeles' second unit had played better than Boston's in the three series each team played heading into their matchup. But the Celtics substitutes outrebounded those of the Lakers in all six games and outscored them in five.

"If you look at our team over the last couple years, three years, we brought guys in the middle of the year to help us in these types of situations when we get to the playoffs," Pierce said. "Last year we were injured. The year before it was P.J. Brown who came up big and won a game for us versus Cleveland, and this year it was Nate."

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