LOS ANGELES – The six-month wait is over. The Los Angeles Lakers can put the anguish of losing the NBA finals to the Boston Celtics and the embarrassment over the way the series ended behind them.
Kobe Bryant had 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists, Pau Gasol scored seven of his 20 points in the final three minutes, and the Lakers used a strong finish to beat Boston 92-83 Thursday, snapping the Celtics’ franchise-record 19-game winning streak.
The game was the first between the teams since the Celtics romped to a 131-92 victory in Game 6 of the finals last June to win their first championship in 22 years and league-high 17th title. The Lakers blew a 24-point second-quarter lead in Game 4 at Staples Center to fall behind 3-1 – a deficit that’s never been overcome in the finals.
The teams have been rivals since the 1960s, having met 11 times in the finals, with the Celtics going 9-2.
“We’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a long time, and we won,” said Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, who scored 10 points. “I don’t like them at all. A lot of people called us softies or whatever. It doesn’t matter at all. We know what we can do.
“Last year, they won the championship. This year, it’s our year, we want to take it all the way.”
The victory was the 1,000th for Los Angeles’ Phil Jackson, making him the sixth NBA coach to reach that milestone. The 63-year-old Jackson has a career record of 1,000-423 in 17-plus seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. He became the fastest to win 1,000 games, surpassing Pat Riley, who did it in 1,434 games.
“It’s amazing. I mean, he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I can guarantee you that I won’t win 1,000 games because I won’t be around that long. It’s just an amazing number. When you throw up 1,000 wins, that says a lot.”
The Celtics entered with a 27-2 record – the fastest start by a team with two or fewer losses. They were in pretty good shape when Kevin Garnett dunked off a feed from Rajon Rondo to put them ahead 81-79 with 3:57 remaining. But the Lakers went on a 13-2 run to finish the game.
“Give them all the credit,” said Boston’s Paul Pierce, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds but was scoreless in the fourth quarter. “We just have to play better down the stretch.”
Gasol missed his first four shots, and showed frustration at times. But he made all three of his shots and all three of his free throws in the fourth quarter for nine of his team’s 21 points.
“We were pretty physical,” said Gasol, who had three rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. “We were able to contain them, keep our poise and finish the game off. I had to make sure I took it to them, not settle for easy jumpers. I’m glad I was able to get over that hump of a slow start.
“It shows we can beat anybody. Hopefully, we’ll build on it.”
Lamar Odom had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers (24-5), who won their 12th straight game at home, where they’re 15-1 this season. Andrew Bynum, who missed most of last season and the playoffs with an injured knee, had nine points and seven rebounds.
Garnett shot 11 of 14 in leading the Celtics (27-3) with 22 points and nine rebounds. Ray Allen scored 14, but went 2 of 11 after making his first three shots. Rondo was held to six points, shooting 3 of 11, but had 12 assists.
“They played great, give them credit,” Rivers said. “For a team that has been phenomenal down a stretch of games, I didn’t think we were very good tonight. We’ve been as composed as any team that I’ve seen in a long time, and I thought quite honestly that we lost it a little bit at the end.”
“It was my first Christmas game, and I’m obviously blessed to be here,” Garnett said. “There’s a reason why teams are playing on this special day, so it had a playoff energy and a playoff atmosphere to it, absolutely. It’s tough when you lose against anybody. We probably took a step back, but hats off to a good Laker team. Pau made big shots when he had to and Kobe put stress on the defense.”
Boston’s Glen Davis returned after missing two games because of a concussion sustained in a traffic accident last Sunday, adding four points and four rebounds.
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