BOSTON // When Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics coach, gave his starters a breather to begin the fourth quarter, he told them not to get too comfortable. "Doc was like, 'One minute, and I'm putting you in the game. You're not sitting too long, so just be ready,'" Paul Pierce, the Celtics captain, said.
"Then you look up: we tie the game, then go up two, three and then they push the lead to seven. ... It was beautiful to watch, just being a cheerleader on the sideline." Glen "Big Baby" Davis led the Celtics bench on a game-changing run on Thursday night, scoring half of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as Boston pulled away from the Los Angeles Lakers to win 96-89 and tie the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
"This is what legends are made of, this is where you grasp the moment," Davis said. "Just play in the moment." Game 5 is tomorrow night in Boston. The Celtics' win guaranteed them a trip back to Los Angeles and averted a 3-1 deficit that has never been overcome in NBA finals history. "We know what to do. We know how to play. We know how to get it done," said Pau Gasol, the Lakers forward, who scored 21 points to go with a game-high 33 for Kobe Bryant. "And we know how important Game 5 will be, so we've just got to get ourselves mentally and physically ready ... to accomplish our mission."
Pierce scored 19 points, Kevin Garnett had 13 and Ray Allen bounced back from a seven-quarter shooting slump to score 12 points for Boston. But the new Big Three that led the Celtics to their unprecedented 17th NBA title in 2008 - beating the Lakers in the finals - was on the bench for much of the fourth-quarter run that gave Boston the lead for good. And that was fine with them. "I don't think guys really care and that's why we're here, it really is," Rivers said. "[Rajon] Rondo and the rest of them, they were begging me to keep guys in. 'Don't take them out! Don't take them out!' It was great. That's the loudest I've seen our bench, and it was the starters cheering from the bench."
Garnett and Pierce didn't rejoin Allen on the court until there was less than three minutes left left. Bryant scored 10 of the Lakers' last 12 points, hitting all three free throws to make it 92-86 after he was fouled attempting a three-pointer with a minute left. But then Rondo stole a pass from Bryant and took it the length of the court for a layup that made it an eight-point lead with 32 seconds left. And this time, the reserves were cheering for the starters.
"All I'm thinking about is, 'Let's win,'" Davis said. "I'm not thinking about anything else. I'm not even thinking about Kobe making all these shots, worried about this or worried about that. I'm just worried about winning, whatever it takes to win, and just making sure that I give my teammates positive energy to finish out the game." Bryant hit three consecutive three-pointers to give the Lakers a 62-58 lead with a little more than a minute left in the third. Davis's putback left the Celtics trailing by two points heading into the final quarter, and he scored on a reverse layup in the opening minute of the fourth to tie it.
Gasol made a basket to give Los Angeles the lead - its last of the game - before Allen scored, Davis followed, Allen made another basket and Davis followed with a three-point play that made it 71-64 with just eight minutes left. "They got all the energy points, the hustle points, second chance points, points in the paint, beat us to the loose balls," Bryant said. "I mean, that's how the game turned around."
In all, the Celtics scored 13 of 15 points during a five-minute span when Allen was the only starter on the court, mostly with Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson and Tony Allen. Asked if he was surprised to see his bench extend the lead, Rivers said: "I'm happy. I don't know about surprised." "We've done that during the season, but this is the finals," Rivers said. "So it's obviously different against such a quality team."
Asked for his team's strategy in stopping the Celtics' bench, Phil Jackson, the Lakers coach, said, "No, I don't want to talk about that." Davis played along. "I don't have no comment, either," he said. "If Phil Jackson don't have no comment, then I don't have no comment." Robinson scored 12 points in 17 minutes as the Celtics' bench outscored the Lakers' 36-18. Ten of Los Angeles's bench points came from Lamar Odom, who played 39 minutes after Andrew Bynum, the starting centre, tested his sore knee but did not play in the second half. "We just knew we had to bring our energy, that's the main thing for us," Robinson said of his fellow reserves. "The more energy we bring, the better offensively we are and the better defensively we are."
Ray Allen, who had a record eight three-pointers in Game 2 and then went 0 for 13 from the field in Game 3, made his first basket but then went cold again, missing his next six shots before snapping out of it. He finished 4 for 11 from the field - missing all four three-pointers, but scored 10 points in the second half.