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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

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In need of home cooking: Kobe Bryant (right) and the Lakers have work to do if they are going to prevent Ray Allen and the Celtics from winning their second NBA title in three seasons. Boston leads the NBA Finals 3-2. AP PHOTO

Kobe, Lakers look for way past Celtics

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Lakers are down 3-2 in the NBA Finals against an old foe that keeps finding new ways to beat them.

They'll need a big Hollywood ending to escape with another championship — and that's exactly where they'll make their last stand against the Boston Celtics.

Game 6 is back home on Tuesday at Staples Center, where the Lakers are 9-1 in the postseason, with everybody from Kobe Bryant to the Lakers' bedraggled bench playing with much more passion and confidence.

"If you look at it, they've come home and carried the 3-2 lead back," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It's basically home court, home court. Now we're going back to home court to win it. That's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it?"

Two straight losses in Boston led to a dire series deficit for the Lakers, who hadn't even trailed in any playoff series this season. The Celtics have won three of the last four games, and they're responsible for Los Angeles' only home loss of the playoffs.

So why didn't Jackson or Bryant seem particularly worried before they headed out on their final cross-country flight of the postseason?

Throughout a trying season filled with injuries and big-game setbacks since a Christmas Day loss to Cleveland, the Lakers have always been able to rise when they absolutely needed to do it.

Jackson even described the L.A. locker room as "spirited" after losing Game 5 in their lowest-scoring performance of the postseason in the 92-86 loss. For all their struggles in Boston, the Lakers realize they only have to defend their home court to win their 16th title.

"We have a challenge, obviously, down 3-2," said Bryant, who scored 38 points in Game 5 while his struggling teammates only managed 48. "We let a couple opportunities slip away, but it is what it is. Now you go home, you've got two games at home that you need to win, and you pull your boots up and get to work."

If Los Angeles survives, a champion will be crowned Thursday in Game 7.

Heading into the Finals, the Celtics believed they could beat the Lakers, even with Bryant at his spectacular best, if they shut down his teammates. After all, that's what Boston did two years ago in the Finals — and so far, it's working splendidly again.

Bryant is averaging 30.2 points per game, while Pau Gasol averages 18.8 points and 10 rebounds despite glaring inconsistency in his game in Boston. That's just about it: Nobody else in purple and gold is averaging more than Andrew Bynum's 9.6 points per game.

Yet after losing Game 1 and only surviving Game 2 with Ray Allen's 3-point shooting binge and Rajon Rondo's late-game poise, the Celtics aren't fooled into thinking they've got the Lakers on the run in Los Angeles. Boston's current starting five has never lost a playoff series for reasons that go beyond their talent.

"They're playing at home. Home is always where your heart is," Boston's Kevin Garnett said. "With the severity of the game, it's all-out on both ends for both teams. This will probably be the hardest game of the season, if not of the series, if not of everybody's career, this game coming up."

Yet two straight losses undeniably have frazzled the Lakers a bit, with Bryant noticeably furious on the court while Game 5 slipped away.



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