The Lakers survived to play another day, defeating the Celtics in a physical 103-98 victory in Game 5. For the second game in a row, L.A. jumped out to an early lead–this time by 19–only to lose all but three points of it heading into halftime.
However, the Lakers’ balanced scoring attack and clutch defense proved too much for Boston down the stretch as Kobe’s breakaway dunk with 38 seconds remaining effectively sealed the game for the purple and gold, thereby preventing the Celtics from celebrating a championship win at STAPLES Center.
After the game, Coach Jackson said that the team knows that tonight’s win extends the series to a sixth game, but that they need to come out on Tuesday night with the same level of aggression if they hope to push the Celtics to a seventh game.
Jackson told the team that they need to “keep forcing the games and making plays, keep making one play at a time, one quarter at a time. Don’t think anything past this next opportunity on Tuesday to play this team again.”
The Lakers coach also discussed the sequence of plays that led to Kobe’s pivotal dunk in the final minute of play–easily the most important of his 25 points.
“Well, it was a breakout basket he made,” said Jackson. “We were getting beat on a Pierce-Garnett screen roll that got higher and higher as they got up towards half court. They extended our defense and Pierce was able to break us down, we tried to do something different and this time, Kobe was available and capable of getting that steal.”
Jackson praised the efforts of Lamar Odom (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) who each came up with arguably their best games of the series so far in a must-win Game 5.
“You know, they both did a good job on the boards, and I thought Pau was aggressive, made some real good plays out there,” Jackson said. “Lamar had one of those games in which one of our writers here was questioning his ability to rebound and come back after that kind of a–what kind of game we would have out of Lamar, but Lamar is very resilient and showed that tonight.”
“I tried to stay focused throughout the game,” said Odom. “I thought last game that I played, I thought I didn’t make enough plays down in the fourth quarter. Just wanted to stay focused, make plays throughout the game.”
Despite the narrow win, Paul Pierce excelled on offense once again, scoring a game-high 38 points–a continuing trend that the Lakers will have to deal with in Game 6.
“You know, his matchup is difficult,” said Jackson. “He’s strong. He’s able to make some step-throughs or some pivots that get him by our defenders. He got eight assists on top of us trying to rotate and go to him and help out against him, so he’s even making plays and becoming a play-maker. This is something we’re going to have to figure out and do a better job of that.”
Looking ahead to Game 6, Bryant echoed Jackson’s pre-game sentiments, revealing that the key to extending the series is remaining in the present.
“We just think about the next game, that’s all,” said Kobe. “That’s all we do. You can’t help but think obviously two, but to put it in more realistic terms, in training camp if you told us we’ll give you two games that you have to win to win a world championship, we would have took it in a heartbeat. This is a great opportunity for us.”