An unfamiliar chant of "Leon Powe, Leon Powe" was ringing in Kobe Bryant's ears as a former second-round pick cut through the Lakers for an uncontested dunk in the fourth quarter.
It's bad enough that Paul Pierce on one good leg got the best of a healthy, rested and motivated Bryant. But when the league MVP spends most of the night trying to measure up to Powe, the Celtics' second-year backup center, you know that the Lakers are in trouble.
Despite a wild rally in the last eight minutes that saw Los Angeles erase all but two points of a 24-point deficit, Bryant and his teammates are heading home down 2-0 in the NBA Finals. Powe scored 21 points in 15 minutes and a hobbled Pierce scored 28 and made two game-saving plays in the final 23 seconds as Boston survived to beat the Lakers, 108-102, in Game 2 Sunday night.
"It's not the end of the world," Bryant said. "We just have to go home and take care of business."
Pierce, playing with a strained right knee, hit two free throws with 22.8 seconds left to make it a four-point game after Bryant's free throws had capped a 9-0 Lakers run. But following a timeout, the Lakers failed to get the ball in Bryant's hands and instead Sasha Vujacic had his 3-pointer blocked by Pierce, and James Posey chased down the loose ball to seal the win.
The Lakers scored 41 fourth-quarter points, including 13 from Bryant after Boston went ahead 95-71 with 7:55 to play. Incredibly, Los Angeles managed to give Boston a scare - "We got complacent with the lead," Pierce said - but otherwise it was a surprisingly lethargic performance from a Lakers team that did not play well in Game 1.
Bryant finished with a game-high 30 points on 11-for-23 shooting, but he was a nonfactor until the final eight minutes. He's now shooting 35-for-95 in four meetings with Boston this season.
Pau Gasol finished with 17 points and Lamar Odom added 10, but both Laker big men went scoreless in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, Los Angeles was shooting 27-for-61, only to make 14 of 22 shots in the fourth.
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen each scored 17 for Boston and point guard Rajon Rondo had 16 assists compared to 20 for the entire Lakers team.
Powe's outburst was nothing short of stunning. He averaged just 7.9 points during the regular season in a reserve role. But with starting center Kendrick Perkins playing with a sprained left ankle and in foul trouble, Powe made the most of his 15 minutes of fame.
He shot 6-for-7 from the field and was 9-for-13 from the foul line. As a team, the Lakers attempted just 10 free throws, a number which wasn't lost on Phil Jackson or Bryant.