BOSTON -- The Los Angeles Lakers are doing their best to forget all those awful memories of playing in the Boston Garden.
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Kobe Bryant sank the go-ahead basket with 7.3 seconds left, and the Lakers won 90-89 on Sunday for their third consecutive victory over the struggling Celtics. Boston has not been able to make good on the traditional "Beat L.A.!" chant since winning 131-92 to clinch the 2008 NBA championship here in Game 6 of the Finals.
"They smacked us two years ago," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "It was a big game for us. This is a team that's going to be battling to be coming out of the East."
Winners of 32 NBA titles between them -- including the last two -- the Lakers and Celtics have met in the finals 11 times, from Bill Russell against Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, to Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird and on to the current matchup of Bryant facing the New Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
But while the Lakers' superstar came through in the stretch for them, Boston's couldn't.
The Celtics led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter and nursed a one-point lead until Pierce was called for an offensive foul for pushing off as he jumped to shoot with 28 seconds left.
"At that point, I think it's got to be unbelievable, but I didn't see it so I really can't give an opinion on it," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "You know, I do know Kobe pushes off a lot."
Bryant complained of a stiff ankle after Friday night's win in Philadelphia, and it seemed to bother him during the game. He shot just 8 for 20 but made the big one: making a move toward the basket before stepping back from Allen's defense and swishing the ball through the net to give Los Angeles its only lead of the second half.
"He had a couple of looks before that that were good looks, and he didn't put them in. We were mystified by that," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who tied Pat Riley atop the franchise coaching list with his 533rd win in Los Angeles. "He told me the next one was going to go in, so we went with him."
"I didn't say give me one more chance. I said give me the damn ball," Bryant said. "I never really give him much of a choice."
Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists for the Celtics, who have lost six of their last eight games.
Pierce scored 15, Garnett had 10 with nine rebounds and Kendrick Perkins finished with eight points and 10 boards for the Celtics, who were coming off losses to Orlando and Atlanta -- two of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference -- that left them at 6-10 since beating the Magic on Christmas Day.
"It's nothing to be happy about, I'll tell you that," Garnett said. "We haven't been producing wins, but we're a hardworking group."
Garnett missed 10 of those games with a hyperextended right knee, and Boston was 4-6 without him. But Garnett's return hasn't solved all the Celtics' problems.
The Celtics led 81-70 before the Lakers made the next four baskets. Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer -- his only basket of the game -- to stop the run, and it was still a three-point game with less than two minutes left when Bryant hit a pair of free throws to make it 87-86.
Allen hit a pair of free throws, then Ron Artest sank a runner in the lane to make it 89-88. The Celtics got the ball to Pierce, who created a little too much space for himself, negating the basket.
"I thought I made a good move. I got to my sweet spot," Pierce said. "I guess the ref saw it differently and he made the call. That's part of the game. That's why you have referees."
Allen's 3-point attempt at the final buzzer bounced harmlessly off the rim.
"Ten times out of 10 times, when you have Ray open like that I'm going to give him the ball," Pierce said. "He got a good look at it. Sometimes it falls; sometimes it doesn't."
The Celtics fell behind 22-10 in the first quarter, when Bynum scored 12 points, and trailed 40-34 midway through the second before scoring the next 15 points. Rondo had nine points and eight assists in the quarter and was in double digits in both by halftime.
|Kobe Bryant makes the Celtics his latest victim, hitting a jumper with 7.3 seconds left. (Getty Images)|
|L.A. Lakers (37-11) «||30||17||19||24||90|
|LAL:K. Bryant 19 Pts
LAL:A. Bynum 11 Reb
LAL:K. Bryant 6 Ast
|BOS:R. Rondo 21 Pts
BOS:K. Perkins 10 Reb
BOS:R. Rondo 12 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|K. Bryant, SG||45||8-20||2-4||3||6||1||19|
|P. Gasol, PF||41||4-9||3-5||11||2||4||11|
|A. Bynum, C||33||7-13||5-7||11||1||2||19|
|R. Artest, SF||31||4-12||2-2||0||0||4||11|
|D. Fisher, PG||30||3-5||2-2||3||3||2||9|
|L. Odom, PF||22||3-5||0-0||4||2||0||7|
|J. Farmar, PG||14||4-4||0-0||0||1||1||8|
|S. Brown, PG||14||2-4||2-2||4||1||2||6|
|S. Vujacic, SG||6||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|L. Walton, SF||3||0-0||0-0||0||1||3||0|
|J. Powell, PF||Did Not Play|
|A. Morrison, SF||Did Not Play|
|D. Mbenga, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|R. Rondo, PG||38||9-16||3-4||5||12||1||21|
|R. Allen, SG||34||2-10||3-3||5||0||2||7|
|P. Pierce, SF||32||4-11||4-4||3||1||5||15|
|K. Garnett, PF||31||5-9||0-0||9||3||3||10|
|K. Perkins, C||30||3-7||2-5||10||0||3||8|
|T. Allen, SG||25||6-9||2-2||3||0||1||14|
|R. Wallace, PF||21||1-3||0-0||1||4||4||3|
|E. House, SG||15||3-6||1-1||1||0||0||9|
|G. Davis, PF||14||1-2||0-0||2||0||2||2|
|B. Walker, SG||Did Not Play|
|B. Scalabrine, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Daniels, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. Giddens, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Williams, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|