LOS ANGELES - On his floor and on his game, Kobe Bryant revived the Los Angeles Lakers - and the NBA Finals.
With his team one loss from having to make an impossible climb, Bryant was close to MVP form, scoring 36 points on an assortment of spins, drives and jumpers, and reserve Sasha Vujacic added 20 points as the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, 87-81, Tuesday night at the Staples Center.
A change of time zones, jerseys and attitude did wonders for the Lakers, who staggered home from Boston down by two games to none and couldn't afford to fall any further behind in the first best-of-seven matchup between the league's marquee teams since 1987.
No team in NBA playoff history has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit.
Bryant made sure the Lakers won't have to.
Meanwhile, Ray Allen couldn't carry the Big Three by himself.
Allen broke out with 25 points - his second-best game of the playoffs - but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett struggled to keep up in Game 3.
The Celtics won the first two games in Boston, but the Lakers held serve when the series moved West. They have a chance to tie it at home on Thursday.
To stop them, the Celtics will need a better game from Pierce, a native of the Los Angeles area playing his first playoff game in his hometown. He fell into foul trouble early and never got going, missing his first five shots and going 2 for 14 in all while managing to stay on the court just 32 minutes.
Garnett wasn't much better.
He missed his first seven shots and finished 6 for 21, with 13 points. Garnett also had 12 rebounds and five assists while making a few key shots to give the Celtics a short-lived lead in the third quarter.
But it didn't last.
Garnett's only success came in the third quarter, when he scored on a baby hook in the lane to tie the game, 49-all, with 5:50 remaining. The next time down, he hit a baseline jumper on an assist from Pierce to give the Celtics the lead.
But the Lakers came back and pulled away down the stretch, with Pierce and Garnett passing up shots to get the ball to reserve Eddie House.
Pierce made just his second basket of the game with 3:53 left, driving and drawing a foul on Bryant; Pierce missed the free throw that could have cut the deficit to four points. The Lakers led, 78-72, when Pierce did make a couple of free throws, and Garnett banked in a one-hander to make it 78-76.
But Sasha Vujacic hit a three-pointer, and Bryant made a pair of jumpers down the stretch to ice it.