Celtics Make History, But Can the Lakers?

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Boston came back from a 24 point deficit in last night's championship game to take a three to one lead in the NBA finals. It was the biggest comeback in the recorded history of the finals. L.A. would need to make history too to capture the title.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brown.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. The Boston Celtics and the L.A. Lakers have something new to add to their decade's old NBA rivalry. You can call it the comeback. Years from now, mere mention of that word is bound to delight Celtics fans, and it will likely enrage those of us who do love the Lakers. Game Four of the NBA Finals featured a stunning Boston comeback. The Celtics' 97-to-91 victory will put them one win away from the championship. NPR's Tom Goldman was at last night's game.

TOM GOLDMAN: With about 45 seconds left in last night's game, Lakers fans booed lustily as Boston forward Paul Pierce shot two free-throws.

(Soundbite of crowd booing)

GOLDMAN: As each shot dropped in, the booing stopped. It was the sound of hope being crushed. Visiting pro athletes relished the chance to quiet a raucous hometown crowd, and Thursday, the Celtics pretty much sucked the life out of L.A.'s Staples Center. It wasn't just Pierce's free throws. It was the entire shocking second half.

Midway through the third quarter, the Lakers were ahead by 20 points on their way to tying the series at two games all. But the rest of the game, Pierce and his teammates out-hustled, out-defended, out-scored the Lakers to turn a 20-point deficit into a six-point win. Afterwards, Pierce seemed dazed as he explained Boston's second-half strategy, if that's what you want to call it.

Mr. PAUL PIERCE (Small Forward/Shooting Guard, Boston Celtics): We go out there for the second half, the next 24 minutes and compete and not worry about what the score is and play like our lives depended on it. We give ourselves a chance and we can be happy about our effort at the end of the day. That's all I said. We just went out there and played as hard as we could. We believed, we stuck together and was able to pull out this win. Incredible.

GOLDMAN: Since the Elias Sports Bureau started keeping statistics for the NBA in 1971, there's never been a comeback this great in the finals. Greatness not only was measured by the stunned happiness among the Celtics but also by the pain in the Lakers' locker room. Team leader and league most valuable player, Kobe Bryant, was asked how his team bounces back from such a searing loss.

Mr. KOBE BRYANT (Shooting Guard, L.A. Lakers): A lot of wine, a lot of beer, a couple of shots, maybe like 20 of them. Digest it. Get back to work tomorrow. Nothing you can do.

GOLDMAN: For a player who can take over a basketball game by himself, there was nothing much Bryant could do in the second half. The Celtics made a defensive switch on Bryant. Pierce took over for teammate Ray Allen, which meant Bryant was covered by a taller, more physical player. Bryant was asked about the difference in defenders.

Mr. BRYANT: There's no difference. They're determined to not let me beat them today. I saw three, four bodies every time I touched the ball.

GOLDMAN: The unspoken implication here, where were my teammates when all those Celtics covered me? The answer? Nowhere, as Los Angeles suffered a collective second-half failure. But Bryant wasn't pointing fingers, nor was he rallying his comrades after the game.

Mr. BRYANT: No, not right now. Not right now. I think, right now, it's important for everybody to be a little disappointed, a little pissed off. You know, it's human nature.

GOLDMAN: Pierce led the Celtics with 20 points. He was one of five who scored in double figures. Huge contributions from reserves, James Posey and Eddie House, who spelled starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, when Rondo had to rest his injured ankle. With a win this Sunday, Boston claims a record 17th NBA title and its first since 1986. It would be the first ever for Paul Pierce, who's worn Celtics green his entire 10-year career.

Mr. PIERCE: I want to go out there and try to win Game Five on Father's Day. And then, I'll be able to breathe. Right now, I'm waiting to exhale.

GOLDMAN: L.A. faces big odds. No team has ever come back from being down three games to one in the finals. Bryant said the Lakers aren't thinking about winning three straight. They're thinking about winning Sunday. You take one swing at a time to chop down a tree, he said. The Lakers have three days to sharpen up some suddenly dull axes. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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