LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Lakers needed a last-minute basket to hold off the Boston Celtics, and Kobe Bryant knew everybody in green would expect him to take the shot.
That’s why Bryant suggested Andrew Bynum should do it — and the All-Star center leaped at the opportunity to seal Los Angeles’ latest win in the NBA’s most storied rivalry.
Bryant scored 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and hit a go-ahead jumper with 41.7 seconds to play, and Bynum’s hook shot over Kevin Garnett capped the Lakers’ 97-94 victory Sunday.
Bynum had 20 points and 14 rebounds as the Lakers rallied from a five-point deficit in the final 2½ minutes, scoring the final eight points. Bryant and Bynum had four apiece — but only after Kobe urged coach Mike Brown to use him as a decoy.
“Andrew is too big. You can’t teach that,” Bryant said with a grin. “I knew it was going to be a high-percentage shot.”
After Bynum coolly scored out of a timeout with 15.5 seconds left, Boston couldn’t get a good look at a tying 3-pointer, sending the Lakers to their third straight victory over their longtime rivals.
Bynum appeared to take particular satisfaction in his decisive role in the victory after years as a supporting player to Bryant’s late-game heroics.
“It was crazy,” Bynum said. “Kobe came up with that play. He said, ‘They’re not going to be able to know what to do.’ I was able to get deep position and go to work.”
Rajon Rondo had 24 points and 10 assists for the Celtics, who opened an eight-game road trip by blowing a late lead. On Boston’s final possession, Ray Allen failed to get free for a 3-pointer before Rondo badly missed a desperate tying attempt.
The Lakers earned their 18th victory in 19 home games, stylishly finishing their third straight victory over Boston in yet another thrilling meeting.
“We love beating this team,” Bynum said.
The game might have been the final meeting for the current veteran cores of the franchises that met in the NBA finals in 2008 and 2010, adding new chapters to the rivalry’s history. Boston’s Big Three could be broken up after this season, while both Pau Gasol and Rondo are the subject of rampant trade rumors.
If this was the finale, both clubs went out in style.
“You come into (this rivalry) with the mindset that, ‘This is it,'” said Allen, who scored 17 points. “It’s almost as if this is for the championship every time we play them. It definitely was an entertaining game. … Competitively speaking, we always will go at each other and play hard. There’s talent on both sides, so it’s always a great matchup whenever we meet.”
Boston erased an early 15-point deficit before clinging to a small lead down the stretch. Allen’s 3-pointer put the Celtics up 94-89 with 2:41 left, but Los Angeles trimmed the lead to one point on baskets from Bryant and Bynum before Bryant nailed his 14-footer to put the Lakers ahead.
Allen hit three 3-pointers and had six assists for the Celtics, while Brandon Bass scored 15 points before missing a go-ahead jumper in the final minute. Paul Pierce had 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting and nine assists, while Garnett had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“They made shots down the stretch, and we didn’t,” Rondo said. “We had some good looks at the rim, but the shots didn’t fall and we couldn’t get a stop the last couple of minutes. … It’s not difficult to win on the road. We’re just not getting it done. We just have to close out quarters better and continue to work on our execution.”
Metta World Peace scored 14 points for Los Angeles, which has won 10 of 14 overall. Gasol had 13 points and 13 rebounds, including two key boards in the final seconds as the NBA’s best rebounding team outrebounded the worst 42-34.
The Lakers returned to California for a single home game in a stretch with five of six on the road. Ugly losses at Detroit and Washington last week worried fans who believe a major restructuring is the only way to turn the Western Conference’s fourth-place team into a title contender, but Bryant has repeatedly discounted the Lakers’ road woes, blaming them on the shortened season and the new coaching system.
The Lakers led 37-22 before Boston got rolling midway through the second quarter, closing the first half on a 20-7 run capped by Rondo’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Boston took its first lead early in the third quarter, but World Peace led the Lakers back after getting into a brief scuffle with Pierce and Garnett under the basket. World Peace responded with 10 points in less than 3 minutes for Los Angeles’ streakiest player, capped by a steal and a length-of-the-court drive for a dunk on Pierce.
Notes: Boston swingman Mickael Pietrus played despite a sore knee, scoring five points. … Boston will be back at Staples Center on Monday to face the Clippers. … World Peace is the Lakers’ worst shooter at just 35 percent, but the erstwhile Ron Artest gets up for big games, scoring 17 points against Miami a week ago. … Fans near courtside included Patriots QB Tom Brady, Adam Levine, Tobey Maguire, Seal, Maria Menounos and David Beckham.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.