Updated: June 6, 2008, 2:47 PM ET

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In a scene that brought back memories of Knicks legend Willis Reed and Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Paul Pierce's return to the court sparked the Celtics to a series-opening victory Thursday.

1
Pierce Shows His Worth On Biggest Stage

BOSTON -- The first promising sign was one that almost nobody in the new Boston Garden could see.

Three ambulances were parked beneath the stands underneath the north end of the arena, all of them idle. No drivers in sight, no emergency medical technicians standing by, no rear doors waiting open to transport Boston's injured superstar to the hospital.

The good news would become apparent to the home fans just moments later, when Pierce made a right turn as he walked out of the home locker room (a left turn would have led him to the ambulances), headed down the hallway and popped out of the same tunnel he had been carried through by teammates just a few minutes earlier.

"I thought I tore something -- that's the way I felt at the time. Usually when I go down, I'm getting right back up, but it was an instance where I turned my knee and it popped, and I was just in pain where I couldn't move," Pierce said.

"Did you see the look on his face? Just agony," said teammate P.J. Brown, who was the last player to exit Boston's postgame locker room -- just seconds after Pierce shuffled out ever so gingerly.

LAKERS VERSUS CELTICS
NBA FINALS
Boston 1, L.A. Lakers 0
Game 2: Sun., 8:30 ET, at BOS

  • Full NBA Finals schedule
  • After the game, Pierce was walking with a pronounced limp as he exited the postgame interview room and headed back to the locker room, but some 45 minutes later the injury was clearly bothering him more.

    As he walked to his car, Pierce was still wearing his warm-ups. The snaps along the right side were hanging open, revealing a wrapping of several ace bandages from the bottom of his calf to the top of his thigh, an additional layer of white tape wrapped around the lower half of his hamstring, ending just above his knee.

    Pierce's feet moved no more than 12 inches with each step, and as you watched him begin to navigate the four flights of stairs from the locker room level to the players' parking lot, you couldn't help but wonder exactly how much adrenalin had fueled his comeback. The knee injury could also keep him out of Game 2 or, at the very least, reduce his effectiveness.

    As it was, Pierce showed what kind of a player he is, not only by coming back but also by hitting a pair of 3-pointers late in the third quarter that gave the Celtics the separation they needed in a 98-88 victory Thursday night for a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals. Game 2 is Sunday night.

    "Once I got to the back, I stood on my two feet and tried to see where the pain was at," Pierce said. "It was on the inside of my knee. I tried to put weight on it, wasn't bad. I tried to move laterally, a little soreness. Once I felt I could put weight on it, I had to get back out there."

    The arena went so nuts when Pierce returned, Phil Jackson called a timeout to diffuse some of the energy in the building and allow his team to regroup. It was still a one-point game at the time, and the Lakers would go ahead 71-69 before Pierce changed the game again.

    His 3-pointer with 1:26 left in the quarter gave Boston the lead for good, and another 3-pointer 22 seconds later from the same spot on the floor gave the Celtics a four-point lead that they'd carry into the final quarter.

    It was still a four-point game when Pierce returned after sitting out the first 6:12 of the fourth quarter, but he knocked down a 13-footer with 5:23 left and then made a pair from the line. Los Angeles couldn't put together a rally the rest of the way. After scoring just three first-half points, Pierce had 19 in the final 24 minutes.

    There wasn't any outright skepticism from the Lakers regarding Pierce's heroics, but there did seem to be just a smidgen from Jackson as he noted how quickly Pierce went from possibly being done for the series to being right back on the court.

    And as big as Pierce's two third-quarter 3s and four fourth-quarter points were, you could argue the play of the game happened when Ray Allen drove the lane, met up with two defenders and hurled a wild pass back toward the top of the key, where it eluded everyone before Garnett made a great play to save a backcourt violation, flipping the ball blindly back into the frontcourt where Sam Cassell turned it into one of his four buckets for an 83-78 lead.

    Cassell and Rajon Rondo combined for 23 points and eight assists from the point guard position, and Garnett had 24 points and 13 rebounds. The Celtics won a couple of key statistical battles -- 46-33 in rebounds and 12-4 on second-chance points -- and held Kobe Bryant to just four fourth-quarter points.

    But again, this series is only one game old, and Pierce left the building looking more like someone in need of a leg transplant than someone who will bounce back quickly with treatment. He has between 48 and 72 hours to heal, as does Kendrick Perkins, who sprained his left ankle on the same play on which Pierce twisted his knee.

    If the Celtics don't get both of them back at something approaching full strength, this could go down as the night Boston lost the series despite winning the game.

    Because ambulance or no ambulance, the truth was The Truth could barely walk by the time the night was over.

    Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

    NBA Finals Dimes Past: June 2 | 5

    2
    Lakers Got Away From What Had Been Working
    By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

    BOSTON -- Looks like the biggest question about the Lakers is the only one that wasn't asked before the series: What if Kobe Bryant has a hard time scoring?

    More ominously: What if this is the continuation of a trend of bad Finals performances?

    The last time Bryant played in June he shot 38 percent during the Lakers' five-game loss to the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Back then it was an ugly and ill-fated attempt to prove he could be the No. 1 guy and wrest control of the team from Shaquille O'Neal. That battle has been won, and this year a season's worth of accolades (not to mention the MVP trophy) came Bryant's way.

    He has delivered virtuoso performances on this stage before, beginning with his first trip to the Finals. In 2000, he scored eight points in overtime to snatch Game 4 from the Indiana Pacers. It was the start of the legend, when he went from phenom to phenomenal. As Sam Cassell said the other day, "That's when he became KB8."

    Of course, now he's KB24. And he's the focal point of the opposing defense, rather than a dangerous weapon alongside Shaq. Once again we're seeing what happens when the league's best defense locks in on the league's best player, especially when that player is oriented on the perimeter. The defense wins.

    "They're not going to give him much of an opportunity to break down their defense off of dribble penetration," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "So he's going to end up in a situation where he's taking more catch-and-shoot opportunities when he's coming off of cuts and coming off of screens and catching and shooting the basketball. That's something he's going to get used to as the series goes on. He's so great at breaking down defenses off the dribble. The Celtics' defense just doesn't allow that type of play."

    To read the entire column, click here.

    3
    TrueHoop: Is Allen the New Kobe Stopper?
    By Henry Abbott | ESPN.com

    BOSTON -- Ray Allen the shooter. Ray Allen the gentleman. Ray Allen the ... stopper?

    It's a little early for all that. But not as early as you might think.

    If Kobe Bryant's poor performance against Allen on Thursday night was a fluke, it was a three-game fluke, not a one-game fluke.

    Backed by Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau's schemes, in three games against the Celtics this season, Bryant is shooting a combined 24-for-72 from the floor. That's 33 percent. By shooting 9-of-26 -- 35 percent -- Bryant actually improved his season-long field goal percentage versus the Celtics.

    And most of those possessions have come with Allen checking Bryant solo. Help from other Celtics is never far away, but by and large it's Allen's show.

    Bryant gives the defense no credit, saying this was merely a case of "missing bunnies ... Hopefully I'll get those same looks in Game 2."

    It's not likely Kevin Garnett will be sharing his Defensive Player of the Year award with his spindly teammate. But Bryant is not entirely correct in saying the defense offered no resistance. There's no ignoring the fact that Bryant is having a hard time getting to the hole. (When Posey was on Bryant for a spell, on the other hand, Bryant quickly found his way into the paint again and again.) And job No. 1 for Allen is to not foul Bryant, and Thursday Bryant shot only six free throws.

    Bryant and Allen have had a rich, and at times, salty rivalry. Allen has to be loving his recent spell of effectiveness guarding the MVP. He's not going to 'fess up to it, though, likely for fear of providing bulletin board material for the Lakers.

    I asked Allen if his defense against Bryant was becoming a point of pride. "My point of pride," he responded, "was that my team got the win."


    Comments

    You must be signed in to post a comment

    Already have an account?

    4
    Extreme Behavior
    By Maurice Brooks
    ESPN.com


    THURSDAY'S BEST
    Paul Pierce, Celtics forward: He made sure that Game 1 lived up to the hype by returning to action minutes after being carried off the court following a knee injury. He scored 22 on 7-for-10 shooting to lock up this spot.


    THURSDAY'S WORST
    Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard: He found out the hard way just how good the league's top defensive team can be. The MVP never looked comfortable on the way to missing 17 of his 26 shot attempts.


    QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
    "I had some good looks, they just didn't go down for me. I just missed some bunnies. I'll be thinking about those a little bit."

    -- Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant on the bad bounces he got on his shots from the floor

    See Thursday's daily leaders

    5
    0, 1, 2, 4, 5 ... Where's the 3?
    By John Hollinger
    ESPN.com

    BOSTON -- Wednesday, all of us experts at ESPN.com were asked for our keys to the series. Thursday before Game 1, I went to one of my spies in Boston and posed the same question.

    For the Lakers, his answer was the 3-pointer. Sure enough, Boston's ability to take it away was a key to the Celtics' 98-88 victory in Game 1.

    Since acquiring Pau Gasol, L.A. averaged 9-plus made 3-pointers per game, shooting at a 38.6 percent clip. But that weapon was largely missing in Game 1, as L.A. made only three triples. And it was no secret why -- the drives and kicks that set up the trifectas for the Lakers weren't there.

    "That's because the ball didn't move," said Lamar Odom. "We didn't execute. When they took away something we didn't counteract with our automatics."

    Other Lakers joined the chorus blaming ball movement, or the lack thereof, especially during the 37-point second half in which L.A. made only one triple. They rarely got attempts, even, until a few desperate hoists in the final minute -- L.A. had only 14 tries on the night after averaging 23 in the post-Gasol trade part of the season.

    "We've just got to play smarter," said Sasha Vujacic. "They played good, their rotation was there at all times, [but] we've just to do a better job of swinging the ball. After one swing we stopped swinging it. If we had stayed with it a little more, with patience and more focus at the offensive end, we'd [have been] OK."

    In taking away the 3, it appears the Celtics borrowed a page from the Spurs' playbook in the conference finals. Though San Antonio fell in five games, it was able to frustrate L.A. at several points by making Kobe Bryant a jump shooter and denying the kick outs to the wings for easy triples for the likes of Vujacic, Derek Fisher and Vladimir Radmanovic.

    But while the Lakers credited Boston's tough D, it was their own inability to better punish the Celtics' help defense that left them puzzled.

    "They can't stop you from passing," Odom said.

    John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.

    6
    Rivers Wins Coaching Battle
    By Dr. Jack Ramsay
    ESPN.com

    BOSTON -- Every move Doc Rivers made from the bench paid dividends for the Celtics in Game 1. To start the game, Rivers matched Kevin Garnett against Pau Gasol, but when Garnett picked up his first foul, he switched Kendrick Perkins to Gasol and Garnett to Lamar Odom. The Lakers never went to Gasol with any consistency and Odom was not really an offensive threat, especially in the first half.

    Rivers had a variety of defenders on Kobe Bryant, starting with Ray Allen. Allen did a terrific job keeping Bryant at the perimeter and challenging his jumper. Kobe was 3-for-10 in the first half and 9-for-26 for the game. Paul Pierce and James Posey also defended Kobe and, in general, prevented him from delivering an MVP performance.

    Rivers also used Sam Cassell to back up Rajon Rondo for about 13 minutes. Cassell came through with four field goals, mostly against Derek Fisher, whom he backed down to midpost position where he shot over him.

    To start the third period, with his team trailing 51-46, Rivers ordered a set play for Pierce, who at that point was 1-for-4. Pierce scored from the low post and then nailed two 3s and two free throws in an eight-point run that allowed the Celtics to regain the lead.

    So give Rivers the coaching nod over the veteran nine-ring wearer Phil Jackson ... at least for Game 1.

    Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay serves as lead game analyst for the NBA on ESPN Radio.

    7
    NBA Video Channel
    8
    It's Gotta Be the Shoes

    Elsa/Getty Images/NBAE

    Kevin Garnett's sneakers, the adidas Team Signature KG Commander, will go on sale in October, but a few select pairs are being auctioned off for charity during the NBA Finals. They will retail for $1,017.

    9
    Not Bad Company To Keep
    Elias Sports Bureau

    Kevin Garnett had 24 points and 13 rebounds in Boston's victory over the L.A. Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. In the past 30 years, only two other players had at least 24 points and 13 or more rebounds in their first career game in the NBA Finals: Shaquille O'Neal (26 and 16) in 1995 and Tim Duncan (33 and 16) in 1999.

    More from Elias Sports Bureau

    10