LOS ANGELES (AP) -Kobe Bryant scored 15 points in the first quarter, but Paul Pierce had 16 in the second, and the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to avoid elimination, led the Boston Celtics 55-52 on Sunday night in Game 5 of the NBA finals.
Trying to become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals, the Lakers built another huge lead after a quarter - they blew one in Game 4 to force them into this predicament.
And once again, they did a poor job protecting it. Bryant was scoreless in the final 15 1/2 minutes of the half, and Los Angeles let a 17-point lead after one get cut to three.
The Lakers needed to hold on to set up a Game 6 on Tuesday night back in Boston. A Celtics victory would give them 17 championships, and the first for their trio of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Pierce had 21 points at the half. Garnett sat the final 7 1/2 minutes of the second period after picking up a third foul and had eight.
The Celtics were without Kendrick Perkins because of a sprained left shoulder, and coach Doc Rivers said before the game it was doubtful his starting center could play again in the series.
Bryant, who scored only 17 points in Game 4, had 15 in the first 12 minutes Sunday. His fourth 3-pointer made it 24-10 with 4:55 remaining, and the Lakers extended it to 39-22 when Pau Gasol was credited with a layup on a goaltending call by P.J. Brown with 0.9 seconds left.
The Lakers led 35-14 after the first quarter of Game 4, a lead they extended to 24 points before the Celtics rallied for a 97-91 victory. The 24-point bulge was the largest blown in a finals game since at least 1971, when the Elias Sports Bureau became the league's official statistician.
Sasha Vujacic's bucket in the opening minute of the second made it 43-24, then the Lakers went nearly six minutes without a point. The Celtics stormed back with 15 consecutive points, pulling to 43-39 on Pierce's 3-pointer with 6:44 left in the half.
The Lakers extended the lead back to eight, but the Celtics scored the final five of the half, including Pierce's 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining.
Veteran official Dick Bavetta, who worked the sixth game of the 2002 Western Conference finals that former referee Tim Donaghy alleged was rigged, was one of the officials assigned to this game. But the foul situation was basically even, with the Lakers shooting eight in the first half and the Celtics attempting 12.
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