LOS ANGELES (AP) — This time, Kobe Bryant got plenty of help from his teammates.
He and his fellow starters built a double-digit lead in the first quarter and the reserves expanded it from there in an 89-67 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, tying the NBA finals at three games apiece.
The decisive Game 7 is Thursday night at Staples Center. History might be on the Lakers' side considering they haven't lost consecutive home playoff games since 2000.
Scribbled on the greaseboard in the Lakers' postgame locker room was "1 to the ring."
After being hopelessly outplayed in losing Game 5 at Boston, the Lakers' reserves responded in a big way to save their season. They outscored the Celtics' bench 25-13, led by Sasha Vujacic with nine points and Lamar Odom with eight points and 10 rebounds, including nine on the defensive boards.
"We were just as a unit unbeatable no matter who was on the floor," Vujacic said. "We are going into Game 7 very confident."
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson had said before the game that his bench had to prove itself, and he noted the reserves play better at home than on the road.
Jackson was right.
"The energy and the direction they had was what I was pleased with," he said. "I felt like they were directed and they had an idea what they wanted to get accomplished out there on the floor. That was important."
The Lakers' reserves outscored their Boston counterparts 24-0 through three quarters, with the Celtics' bench not scoring its first points until Nate Robinson's three-point play early in the fourth.
"Bench players are typically more comfortable at home and stars play well everywhere," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Their bench gave unbelievable energy. Every single guy."
Bryant scored 11 points in the opening quarter, when every other starter scored, including Ron Artest, who had eight, and the Lakers took a 28-18 lead they never relinquished.
The Lakers needed their backups, especially since 7-footer Andrew Bynum's knee gave him more problems. He was limited to two points and four rebounds in nearly 16 minutes.
"He just said, 'You've got to take me out. I can't run,'" Jackson said. "He had some swelling in the back of his leg, and we'll have to work on that."
The second quarter belonged to the reserves. Odom, who has played unevenly throughout the finals, scored six points. Vujacic, who scored five in the previous game, hit a 3-pointer and a jumper. Jordan Farmar threw down a fastbreak dunk, had a layup and a steal.
The Lakers outhustled the Celtics, diving for loose balls and playing energetic defense.
With the Lakers ahead 51-31 at halftime, Jackson went back to Vujacic in the third, and he responded by hitting a 3-pointer. Shannon Brown got in the game, too, and ensured a spot in the highlight reel. He took a pass from Bryant and scored on a fastbreak dunk, then followed with a one-handed dunk that had fans oohing at his elevation.
It all added up to a 76-51 Lakers lead heading into the fourth.
"It was controlled desperation," Brown said. "We stayed within ourselves and turned it up a couple notches. We stayed aggressive on both ends."
That's when Bryant and the other starters got some rare rest. Odom sat down, too, leaving seldom seen Luke Walton, DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell to finish out the closing minutes. Walton missed his only two shots, but he came up with a blocked shot.
"We got to build on that momentum," Brown said. "The job is not done."