LOS ANGELES - Paul Pierce is looking forward to Game 4 of the NBA finals, when he'll get a second chance to show his hometown what Boston's Big Three can do.
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, left, gets a rebound against Boston Celtics' Ray Allen during the second quarter of Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals in Los Angeles Tuesday, June 10, 2008.
(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
"We were in the game despite me and Kevin (Garnett) really not playing well," Pierce said after scoring just six points on 2-for-14 shooting in Game 3 on Tuesday night. "We had our opportunities. ... I think we have a great chance of beating them in Game 4."
Ray Allen broke out with 25 points — his second-best game of the playoffs so far — but Pierce and Garnett struggled to keep up as the Los Angeles Lakers beat Boston 87-81 to cut the Celtics' lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
"Shooting wise, I had a pretty awful game," said Garnett, who scored 13 points on 6-for-21 shooting. "Hey, it's not a perfect game. I know at times we make it look easy, but that's the great thing about this league. We have some more games to play, and I'm sure I'll get better."
The Celtics won the first two games in Boston, but the Lakers held serve when the series moved West. Boston, which had an NBA-best 31-10 away record in the regular season, fell to 2-8 on the road in the playoffs.
But the Celtics are taking heart in the fact that they played as badly as they have all postseason and still came within two points on a Garnett bank shot in the final minutes.
"When Paul has a night like tonight, and Kevin has a game like he had, I look at it like we had a chance to steal a game here when our guys were off," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They'll be fine. We'll make some adjustments, and they'll be fine."
Pierce fell into foul trouble early and never got going, missing his first five shots and managing to stay on the court just 32 minutes.
Garnett wasn't much better.
He missed his first seven shots, admitting afterward that he rushed shots and might have been over-hyped for the game. He also had 12 rebounds and five assists while making a few key shots to give the Celtics a short-lived lead in the third quarter.
"As far as the three of us, we have to be content to be aggressive. We have to make plays," Garnett said. "Paul and I didn't have the best night offensively. But defensively I thought we were very sound. We were in the game. This game was never out of reach for us."
Kobe Bryant scored 36 for the Lakers, who got 20 from Sasha Vujacic but only 13 on 4-for-18 shooting from Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
"They didn't get great games out of their two players, but neither did we," Bryant said. "So you've just got to chalk it up."
Garnett scored on a baby hook in the lane to tie the game 49-all with 5:50 left. Next time down, he hit a baseline jumper on an assist from Pierce to give the Celtics the lead.
But it didn't last.
While Garnett played the whole third quarter because Pierce was in foul trouble, he had to come out at the beginning of the fourth for a breather.
"With Paul in foul trouble, we basically had no choice," Rivers said. "When he came back in, we went down there. We just didn't get anything out of him."
The Lakers came back and pulled away down the stretch, with Pierce and Garnett passing up shots to get the ball to reserve Eddie House.
"It just looked like Kevin kind of ran out of gas. It looked like he was gassed some time in the fourth quarter," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Putting Kobe on Pierce was the difference for tonight's game. It was difficult for him to work to get free.
"He still had, I thought, some instrumental plays down the stretch. But it made a difference for us tonight."
Pierce made just his second basket of the game with 3:53 left, driving and drawing a foul on Bryant; Pierce missed the free throw that could have cut the deficit to four points. The Lakers led 78-72 when Pierce did make a couple of free throws, and Garnett banked in a one-hander to make it 78-76.
But Vujacic hit a 3-pointer, and Bryant made a pair of jumpers down the stretch to ice it.
"We just didn't play well as a group, and it wasn't just Kevin," Rivers said. "I told our guys, 'Listen, you had a chance to win, but don't be delusional. That team attacked you, they were the aggressor.'"