BOSTON - Paul Pierce survived a scary moment when his knee buckled, then returned to spark the Boston Celtics to victory last night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Pierce finished with 22 points and four rebounds as the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 98-88. Kevin Garnett led Boston with 24 points. Kobe Bryant paced the Lakers with 24.

The Celtics host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Sunday night before the finals move to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday.

Pierce shook off an injury scare when he had to be carried off the court by teammates in the third quarter, only to return to play minutes later.

The all-star went to the ground after colliding with teammate Kendrick Perkins under the basket with 6 minutes, 49 seconds left in the quarter, and Perkins' leg seemed to knock Pierce's out from under him. Pierce stayed on the court for several minutes as the game went into a time-out, with the fans yelling, "Let's go Paul!" Pierce had to be carried from the arena by teammates Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen.

But minutes after being taken to the locker room in a wheelchair, Pierce came bounding out of the tunnel and back onto the court, bringing the crowd to its feet. Wearing a sleeve on his right leg, he walked right past the bench to the scorer's table to check in with 5:04 left in the third quarter.

"When I hit the floor, I heard a pop and thought I'd torn it," Pierce said of his knee. "But when I got back in the locker room, I could put weight on it and change direction. So I knew I had to be out there with my team."

"I was scared when I saw him down on the floor," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "But I told them, 'We've just got to hold the fort until he gets back.' "

NBA Finals veteran Derek Fisher and newcomer Pau Gasol helped Los Angeles overcome Bryant's quiet start, and the Lakers led the Celtics, 51-46, at halftime.

Fisher scored 13 points and Gasol added 12 for Los Angeles, which shot 50 percent for the half against the team that held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage during the regular season. The defense was good against Bryant, as the league's MVP was only 3 for 10 for eight points in the first half.

Garnett scored 16 points in the first half of his NBA Finals debut, but he wasn't getting much help from his two all-star partners in their first time on the big stage. Ray Allen was only 2 of 8 from the field for six points, while Pierce managed just three points while limited to 16 minutes after picking up three fouls.

The NBA Finals returned to Boston for the first time since 1987, and they sounded as they did last time they were here. Cries of "Beat L.A.! Beat L.A!" the soundtrack of so many springs in the old Boston Garden, roared through the arena in the minutes before the tip, with many fans wearing white T-shirts adorned with the chant.

The Celtics and Lakers are meeting in the Finals for the 11th time and have combined for 30 NBA titles, led by Boston's league-leading 16.

NBA:

Game 1

Lakers 88 Celtics 98

Celtics lead series, 1-0

GAME 2: at Boston, 9 p.m. Sunday (6ABC)