Basketball

Finals headed back to Boston

LOS ANGELES — Pack up the championship trophy and book a flight back to Boston, the NBA Finals aren't over yet.

The Los Angeles Lakers are headed east to try a historic comeback of their own.

Kobe Bryant scored 25 points, including a decisive dunk in the final minute — and Lamar Odom added 20 as the Lakers, playing with pride on their star-studded stage, prevented the Celtics from winning a 17th title with a 103-98 win in Game 5 on Sunday night to close to 3-2 in this restored rivalry.

No team has overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals to win a title. The first 28 failed, and now the Lakers, who blew a 24-point lead and lost Game 4 and nearly squandered a 19-point lead in Game 5, have a chance to do something extraordinary.

They'll have to win on the Celtics' parquet floor Tuesday night to force a winner-take-all Game 7, where anything is possible.

Especially with Bryant, the game's best player, on hand.

“We've won on the road before,” Bryant said. “We've played in tough environments before.”

But the league's MVP and uberforce, who spent much of last summer grumbling to Lakers management for help to get him a fourth championship ring, didn't have to fly a solo mission to extend L.A.'s season for at least another game.

Pau Gasol had 19 points and 13 rebounds, Odom had 11 rebounds and four blocks and Derek Fisher added 15 points.

Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 38 points, Kevin Garnett added 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Ray Allen had 16 points. But Boston's Big Three couldn't close their first chance at winning it all, and now will get two cracks at home to finish the job.

After scoring 15 points in the first quarter, Bryant went cold from the floor and finished just 8-for-21. But he made a big steal, poking the ball away from Pierce and streaking down to deliver a two-handed dunk with 37.4 seconds left.

“I just was kind of reading the play and I was able to get my hands on the ball and get out and get a dunk,” Bryant said.

The Celtics called a timeout, Jack Nicholson jumped to his feet and the scoreboard in Staples Center flashed: Not In Our House!

On Boston's next possession, Odom rebounded a missed follow shot by Kevin Garnett, and the Lakers were home free.

“They both did a good job on the boards,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of Odom and Gasol.

After being outrebounded by an average of 3.5 per game previously, the Lakers had a 40-37 advantage on the boards in this game thanks mainly to their two big men.

And both had good shooting nights — Odom went 8-for-10 while Gasol was 6-for-10.

When the final horn sounded, purple and gold streamers fell from the ceiling and the PA announcer said, “Game 6 will be Tuesday night in Boston. This is not over yet.”

Now, the Lakers have to win twice in Boston, where the Celtics are 12-1 in the post-season. The only thing that matters now is Game 6.

“We're young enough and dumb enough to be able to do this,” Jackson said before the game, saying his team's best chance was to “be in the present, don't think about anything else that's going on.”

Bavetta officiates Game 5

Dick Bavetta, the referee who worked one of the games Tim Donaghy alleged was rigged, officiated Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.

Bavetta worked Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, when the Lakers used a huge free-throw advantage in the fourth quarter to beat the Sacramento Kings and even a series they eventually won.

Donaghy, who has pleaded guilty to betting on games he officiated and taking cash payments from gamblers, alleged in a court filing this week that the NBA had two “company men” work that game and make calls that would help the Lakers win and set up a Game 7.

NBA Commissioner David Stern later confirmed that the federal investigation into Donaghy included questions about Bavetta.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league did not consider pulling Bavetta, in his 33rd season as an NBA referee, off the game in light of this week's events. Bavetta has worked more than 20 NBA Finals games.

Scott Foster and Ken Mauer worked with Bavetta on Sunday.

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