Big moments have defined the Lakers-Celtics blood feud, and in their first NBA finals in 21 years, a kid from Los Angeles gave Boston one to remember yesterday.
Paul Pierce, who used to sneak into Lakers games as a youngster, came bounding out of the tunnel from the locker room after leaving with an injured knee and led the Celtics to a tense 98-88 victory in Game 1 of these tradition-soaked finals.
Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol (L) is blocked by Boston Celtics' Kendrick Perkins as he passes the ball during the Game one of the NBA Finals basketball championship in Boston，the United States, June 5, 2008. Celtics beat Lakers 98-88. (Xinhua/Hou Jun)
Pierce's dramatic return after being carried from the court and wheeled down a hallway for treatment will be added to the annals of Celtics-Lakers lore, taking a spot alongside Magic Johnson's baby sky hook and Kevin McHale's clothesline of Kurt Rambis.
Kevin Garnett scored 24 points, Pierce finished with 22 -- 11 after getting hurt -- and Ray Allen, the third member of Boston's Big 3, added 19 for the Celtics, who are chasing a 17th NBA championship. The trio was making its first finals appearance, and for a short time it appeared only two of them would finish their long-awaited debut.
In the third quarter, Pierce was deep in the lane when teammate Kendrick Perkins crashed into him from behind. Pierce, the 10-year veteran who last summer thought his days with Boston might be nearing an end, had to be carried from the court in extreme pain and was taken to the locker room in a wheelchair.
Los Angeles Lakers' Lamar Odom (front) goes up for a rebound during the Game one of the NBA Finals basketball championship in Boston, June 5, 2008. Celtics beat Lakers 98-88. (Xinhua/Hou Jun)
"When I came down I thought I felt a pop, I thought I tore it," Pierce said.
The sight of Pierce leaving drew gasps from some Celtics fans and coach Doc Rivers' heart sunk.
"I thought the worst," Rivers said. "When they carried him off, I just though it was the knee."
However, everyone's worries were soothed just moments later when Pierce returned to Boston's bench and checked back in with 5:04 remaining. As Pierce jogged onto the court with a black elastic wrap on his knee, Garnett clinched a fist and screamed, "Yes!"