(Reuters) – Paul Pierce stepped up when it counted on Sunday to help give the Boston Celtics their first lead in the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Team captain Pierce broke out of a shooting slump in the best-of-seven series with a team-high 27 points in 43 minutes, eclipsing his 24 points in Boston’s losing Game One effort.
“When I step on this court, NBA Finals, I don’t want to have (any) regrets at the end of the series,” the veteran forward told reporters after a 92-86 win gave Boston a 3-2 series lead.
Boston return to Los Angeles with two chances to win what would be a record 18th NBA championship.
“We’re going to have to beat them at their best because they’re going to be great there, and we can’t expect anything else,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
The 32-year-old Pierce has played his entire 11-year career with Boston, winning the 2008 championship along the way, though he was raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood.
“That would be great. I’m not going to try to jinx it right now. We’ve got to win one game, that’s the goal. But it would be amazing if we get it done,” Pierce said.
“That would be great (to clinch the NBA title in Los Angeles),” said Pierce, a big hit among Boston fans with his trademark headband and pencil-thin mustache.
“I’m not going to try to jinx it right now. We’ve got to win one game — that’s the goal. But it would be amazing if we get it done.”
The 6-foot-7 Pierce made 12 of 21 shot and knocked down a pair of three pointers in Game Five, showing the leadership that Boston needed in its final home game of the season.
Pierce’s scrambling defensive rebound with less than a minute to play effectively snuffed out the Lakers’ final attempt to pull within striking distance.
“Paul was terrific. He attacked all night,” said Rivers. “He made big shots for us. He has a great rhythm right now, and we need it.”
Rivers paid tribute to an experienced line-up including forward Kevin Garnett and guard Ray Allen, both 34.
“We have a lot of veterans,” said Rivers. “Our team has a very good ability to focus on a game at a time.”
Pierce shrugged off his poor shooting earlier in the finals.
“I haven’t really been frustrated with my offense in this series, to tell you the truth,” he said.
“We’re an equal-opportunity offense and today I was able to get going a little more.”
(Editing by Alastair Himmer)