Celtics Beat L.A., Could Take Series In Game 6

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Boston, the Celtics withstood 38 points from Kobe Bryant to beat the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers 92-86 Sunday night. The Celtics take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's a first in this year's NBA finals, a team has won two games in a row. The Boston Celtics followed up their game four win with a 92-86 victory last night in game five with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the Celtics just need one more win for the championship. NPR's Tom Goldman went to the experts to analyze the story.

TOM GOLDMAN: When it comes to sports fans, everyone's an expert. So in a playoff series that had defied predictions by the suits on TV, where neither team had been able to maintain momentum and win a measly two games in a row, why not wade into a sea of Celtics green outside Boston's TD Garden last night...

Crowd: (Chanting) Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!

GOLDMAN: ...and find my own expert? It wasn't hard to find Chris Eells.

Mr. CHRIS EELLS: Eells E-E-L-L-S.

GOLDMAN: He was the 6'5 guy wearing a green Kevin Garnet t-shirt and backwards black baseball hat, who stood in a small group of nervy Laker fans and thrust both his middle fingers into the air. Later, a bit calmer, Eells offered up his pre-game take on how Boston would win.

Mr. EELLS: Defensive rebounding. That's all there is to it. All day long, that pressured that Lakers the same as it did the last game. It's 12 guys in Celtic green versus one guy in Laker yellow. It'll make you want to vomit. And the purple/yellow is done.

GOLDMAN: OK. Throw out the vomit part and you've got some solid analysis. And how did Chris Eells do? Not bad.

Crowd: (Yelling) Defense! Defense!

GOLDMAN: Indeed. The Celtics heeded the call for defense. They shut down most of the Lakers. L.A. made only 39 percent of its shots. Boston had more rebounds and blocks. Lakers start guard Kobe Bryant finally had his explosion game of the series. He scored 19 of the Lakers 26 points in the third quarter. He had 38 for the game.

But remember Chris Eells saying 12 Celtics saying 12 Celtics versus one Laker? Spot on. Only one other L.A. player scored in double figures - Pau Gausol with 12. After the game, Boston coach Doc Rivers praised his team for weathering the Kobe storm.

Mr. DOC RIVERS (Coach, Boston Celtics): I love that our guys, for the most part, they held it in. they understood what he was doing. But we defended everyone else. And I thought it was big.

GOLDMAN: While Bryant was breaking out, so were the Boston stars - all of them. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garner, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, hadn't in the finals put together big games on the same night. Last night, finally, they did. And they had just enough. At the end when Boston stagnated, L.A. made a run, and the crowd got very nervous.

On TV, Lakers coach Phil Jackson was heard telling his players that Boston loses more games in the fourth quarter than any team in the league. Paul Pierce was asked about that afterwards.

Mr. PAUL PIERCE (Boston Celtics): You know, he's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I mean, that's been a trait for us throughout the regular season. You know, I haven't really seen too much of that in the playoffs.

GOLDMAN: Which is why the Celtics are just one win a way from their second title in three years, and why Chris Eells looked golden at the end of the evening. Happy, standing outside a tavern near the arena, Eells reveled in his favorite prediction of the night.

Mr. EELLS: Well, it's nice knowing that I could go into a crowd of Lakers fans in Boston and tell them that they made a mistake coming here and 48 minutes later we were right, you know.

GOLDMAN: No predictions about what would happen in L.A. where the series now shifts back for game six - a game about which Lakers coach Phil Jackson says his team feels upbeat. For Eells, Boston's last home game of this season was a rousing success that he pretty much called - worth a beer or two or three and a sign off.

Mr. EELLS: With Tom Goldman, this is Chris Eells, NPR News, Boston.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Game six is Tuesday night. This is NPR News.

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