With the specter of possible elimination hovering over them, the Los Angeles Lakers came out swinging against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the NBA Finals, catching the Celtics with a couple of hay makers along the way. Los Angeles trounced Boston 89-67 on Tuesday night at the Staples Center to even the series and set up a pivotal Game Seven back on their home court on Thursday night.

Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 26 points and added 11 rebounds to help deliver a blow early to the Celtics as the Lakers led 51-31 at halftime. It was a chance at redemption for the Lakers bench as well as heavily criticized forward Ron Artest. Artest, who’s averaged just six points per game in the last four games of the series, scored 15 points and knocked down three three-pointers. The Lakers’ reserves outscored Boston’s 24-0 through three quarters before the Celtics’ bench finally responded with 13 points in the final period with the game out of reach.

With Artest and the Lakers’ bench playing well, Boston was dealt another blow when it lost starting center Kendrick Perkins to a sprained knee in the first quarter. Perkins was helped off the court after landing awkwardly as he fought for a rebound with Bryant and Lakers center Andrew Bynum. With Perkins out the Lakers ravaged Boston on the glass, finishing with a 52-39 rebounding edge.

Perkins’ availability for Game Seven is unknown at this point but his Celtic teammates aren’t planning for his return. “Perk brings rebounding and defense to the game, and toughness,” Boston forward Paul Pierce said. “We lose that, but that’s not an excuse. We’re a mentally tough team. We’ve had injuries all year that we’ve dealt with. We know how to win when guys go down, so that’s no excuse for us.”

Los Angeles may also be without their starting center for Game Seven as Bynum spent the majority of the second half in the locker room after complaining of tightness in his injured knee. Despite injuries to both clubs, the only thing concerning for the Lakers and Celtics now is Thursday’s Game Seven.

“We’re used to being in must-win situations,” Bryant said. “The way we look at it, is just a game we’ve got to win. … I don’t mean to be a buzz kill. I know what’s at stake, but I’m not tripping.”


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO