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Minus O'Neal, Bryant shoots 5-for-25

4/6/2002

BOSTON (AP) -- An injured Shaquille O'Neal watched from the bench
as the Boston Celtics celebrated their first playoff berth in seven
years by beating his Lakers.

The Celtics did it with their first sweep of a season series
against Los Angeles in 10 years as Paul Pierce scored 33 points and
Kobe Bryant missed 20 shots in Boston's 99-81 win Friday night.

"It's a big win against the defending champs," Pierce said.
"Even though they didn't have Shaq, they're still the defending
champs."

The Celtics clinched a postseason spot when Indiana lost
Thursday. But they concentrated on avoiding a letdown like the one
they had in a loss to Philadelphia a week earlier after Allen
Iverson broke his hand in the first half.

"We just got the news earlier in the day that we made the
playoffs and we wanted to go out and play a great game," Eric
Williams said after Boston's fifth win in six games.

O'Neal missed his second straight game with a sprained right
wrist but is expected back for Sunday's game in Miami.

His absence allowed the Celtics to focus on stopping Bryant,
made it easier for Boston point guard Kenny Anderson to penetrate
and opened the middle for Tony Battie to tie his career high with
15 rebounds.

"I think he was the happiest man in the world to find out Shaq
wasn't playing," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said.

Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points and made 16-of-18 free
throws. But he went 5-for-25 from the field as he forced shots in
an attempt to pick up the offensive burden.

"It has been a while since I've had a shooting night like that,
but I'm glad it's out of my system," he said after the Lakers had
their lowest total of the season, two points less than in a loss to
Phoenix on Nov. 16.

The Lakers hit only 34 percent of their shots and dropped to
53-23 with six games left.

"Sacramento would have to falter for us to catch them now,"
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

O'Neal sat out Wednesday night's 94-92 loss to the New Jersey
Nets. The Lakers fell to 7-8 playing without him.

The Celtics led 39-33 at halftime and stayed ahead by at least
six points the rest of the way. The Lakers still had a chance when
they trailed 66-58 after the third quarter, but Boston began the
fourth with a 14-5 run that made it 80-63 with 7:01 left.

Antoine Walker's third 3-pointer of the game gave him 20 points
and Boston its biggest lead, 99-76.

Pierce hit five 3-pointers as Boston went 10-for-25 from long
distance. Los Angeles was 3-for-19.

O'Neal's presence "lets us be a little bit more aggressive on
the perimeter defensively," Los Angeles' Rick Fox said. "When
he's not back there, that aggressiveness will get us burnt."

The Lakers didn't set up good shots as they had a season-low 11
assists.

"Whoever got the ball would go down (to the basket) like we
were playing street ball," Robert Horry said. "When you play
street ball, it doesn't work in your favor."

Los Angeles didn't make a field goal in the third quarter until
Derek Fisher connected on a 14-footer from the left side 4:58 into
the period that cut the lead to 50-38. And they couldn't come back
in the fourth quarter, making just eight shots.

"Without Shaq, it's a completely different ball team," O'Brien
said, "but we did beat them twice and we should be happy about
that. We are happy about that."

Game notes
Pierce passed the 2,000-point mark for the season when his
3-pointer with 3:50 to go put the Celtics up 87-70. He finished
with 2,005, most in the NBA... The national anthem was sung by
Jamie Lynn Sigler, the actress who plays Meadow on "The
Sopranos." ... The Celtics activated Anderson from the injured
list and placed rookie guard Joseph Forte on it with what they
termed a left ankle sprain. ... Lawyer Milloy and Willie McGinest
of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots had front-row
seats. ... Williams left the game for good with 10:32 left after
jamming his right big toe on a camera beneath the basket.