By BRIAN MAHONEY
Posted Jun 17 2010 10:28PM
LOS ANGELES(AP) The Boston Celtics were a half away from an 18th championship, taking a 40-34 lead into halftime during a sloppy Game 7 of the NBA finals on Thursday night.
Ron Artest kept the Lakers in it with 12 points on a night Kobe Bryant (3 of 14) and Pau Gasol (3 of 12) were having miserable shooting nights.
So were most of the Lakers, who shot 26.5 percent from the field and made only half of their 12 free throws.
Boston wasn’t much better, but the Celtics were playing the type of defense they used to beat the Lakers two years ago in the last matchup between the longtime rivals.
Ray Allen was only 1 for 6 for the Celtics, who got good production from the center tandem of Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis with starter Kendrick Perkins out with sprained knee ligaments.
The first Game 7 in the NBA finals since 2005 was a fitting end for pro basketball’s best rivalry, the fifth winner-take-all game between the league’s most storied franchises who in this series earned the highest TV ratings for the finals since 2004.
“This is a series where the performances of individual players and both teams cry out for a Game 7- and now we have it!” commissioner David Stern said.
The Celtics got off to a great start in their quest to add another title, then let the Lakers back into it when their offense stalled early in the second quarter. But the defense remained sharp, controlling a Lakers team trying to become the first repeat champion since they won three straight from 2000-02.
The Lakers earned the chance with an 89-67 victory in Game 6, when the Celtics equaled the second-worst offensive performance in finals history.
The Lakers stuck with what worked that night, inviting pop star Christina Aguilera back for a second straight national anthem performance.
But Boston mostly controlled the action after she left the floor.
Los Angeles led 11-10 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the first quarter before Allen made a 3-pointer to kick off a 13-3 spurt. Bryant had all three points for the Lakers, but he missed 6-of-7 shots in the period and the Celtics led 23-14 when Davis had the final four points of the quarter.
The Lakers shot just 22 percent (6 of 27) in the quarter. Boston hit eight of its first 13 shots and finished 10 of 17 (59 percent).
Things changed quickly in the second quarter, with the Lakers running off 11 straight points to open the period while Boston missed its first seven shots. The much-maligned Artest had three baskets during the run before Rajon Rondo’s layup with 7:14 remaining ended the Celtics’ drought and tied it at 25.
Perkins couldn’t get into the game but he nearly got himself into trouble, with referee Joey Crawford warning the Celtics’ bench after Perkins jumped up and said too much when Kevin Garnett was whistled for an offensive foul late in the first quarter.
The Lakers tried to exploit his absence right away, going into center Andrew Bynum on their first two possessions. But Wallace hit two buckets during Boston’s 5-for-6 start and both he and Davis had six points at the half.