BOSTON – The fashionable “Beat L.A.” chants had all but faded from TD Garden, the oxygen bled from the building by Ray Allen´s misfires, Kobe Bryant´s impossible jumpers and Derek Fisher´s intensity. An anxious air hung over the Boston Celtics on Thursday as they teetered on the edge of a heavy series deficit.
Then Glen Davis rumbled and shimmied, Nate Robinson bounced and bellowed and belief was restored. The crowd thundered anew – “Beat L.A.!” – and the Celtics bullied their way to a 96-89 victory over the Lakers, tying the N.B.A. finals at 2-2.
It was an unusual victory, built on the backs of the Celtics reserves, most prominently Davis, the hefty center, and Robinson, the diminutive guard. They suffocated the Lakers with boundless energy, combining for 15 points in the fourth quarter and propelling the Celtics to a permanent lead.
“I do not think that what we did today was really in the scouting report,” Davis said. “A lot of things that we did was just will and determination and seizing the moment.”
And a lot of things were just plain unusual, such as Davis doing a little shimmy after a big free throw, or celebrating a play so enthusiastically that drool spilled from his mouth. The image was captured by the network cameras, to the great amusement of his teammates.
“When you´re in the moment, you´re in the moment,” the playful Davis said. “If I slobber, snot, spit, please excuse me. Kids, don´t do that. Have manners and things like that. Sorry about that. Did I catch you with some?”
Davis was free to roam the paint in part because Andrew Bynum, the Lakers´ long-limbed center, was forced out by a nagging knee injury. He played just 12 minutes, raising doubts about his availability.
Bynum´s absence “bothered us in the second half,” Coach Phil Jackson said, but the Lakers are hopeful that he can return on Sunday for Game 5, after a two-day break. The series will return to Los Angeles for Game 6 and a possible Game 7.
The Celtics´ Rasheed Wallace left the game late in the fourth quarter after aggravating a back injury. He also picked up his sixth technical foul of the postseason, one shy of the limit. Another technical foul would trigger an automatic suspension. The Celtics´ Kendrick Perkins is in the same predicament.
On a difficult night for the Celtics´ starters, Coach Doc Rivers turned to Davis, Robinson, Wallace and Tony Allen, who joined Ray Allen to open the fourth quarter. They promptly turned a 2-point deficit into a 9-point lead.
Paul Pierce, who had been quiet for much of the night, secured the victory with 7 points in the final 2 minutes 17 seconds and finished with 19.
The Lakers, looking exhausted and frazzled, could not keep pace. Bryant, finding scant help, kept launching difficult jumpers, going 10 for 22 from the field, finishing with 33 points. He had to do most of his work on the perimeter, going 6 for 11 from the 3-point arc. He also had 7 turnovers.
“He was tired,” Jackson said. “Physically, I thought he had to work too hard in the course of the game, and he couldn´t finish it out the way he wanted to finish it out.”
The Lakers pulled within 6 points four times down the stretch, mostly on Bryant´s efforts, but Pierce responded each time. They finally got within 5 points on a meaningless Bryant 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Derek Fisher, the Lakers´ savior in Game 3, spent much of Thursday night on the bench with foul trouble.
The Celtics thoroughly dominated the boards, 41-34, and pulled down 16 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second-chance points. Davis powered through repeatedly for putbacks and layups.
Emotions flared in the fourth quarter. After Lamar Odom knocked Robinson to the floor with a hard foul, Robinson leaped up and went nose to chest with Odom, drawing a technical. Wallace, who had drawn a technical foul a minute earlier, started berating the officials, and Rivers quickly called a timeout to calm everyone´s nerves.
“Somehow, we´re going to have to keep our composure,” Rivers said.
Robinson played the first 9:09 of the fourth quarter, in place of the ineffective Rajon Rondo (10 points), and made several big plays, including a runner in the lane that gave the Celtics an 83-74 lead. Davis hit a pair of free throws to make it an 11-point lead.
Ray Allen, who missed all 13 of his shots in Game 3 bounced back slightly with 12 points. After going four days and nearly 61 minutes of basketball between field goals, Allen finally found the net, converting a fast-break layup a minute after tipoff. That ended an 0-for-16 streak that began in the fourth quarter of Game 2. When he landed, Allen clenched both fists in quiet celebration.
Allen missed his next five shots, starting with an errant a 3-pointer that had 18,624 people exclaiming “awwww” in unison. That left him 1 for his last 21. He did not make another field goal until late in the third quarter, hitting a 20-footer that drew the loudest ovation of the night and tied the score at 56-56.
Davis and Allen provided all the points in a 17-8 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters and wiped out the Lakers´ lead for good.
Then the celebrations began, with Davis whooping and the 5-foot 9-inch Robinson at one point leaping onto his broad back.
“You were on my back?” Davis said to Robinson, as they sat side by side on the interview podium.
“You didn´t even notice,” Robinson said. “We are like Shrek and Donkey. You can´t separate us.”
Everyone laughed and Davis concluded, “You should not have let us two get up here.”
On this night, there was no containing either one.