LOS ANGELES - The Boston Celtics got 8-for-35 shooting from their starting forwards, shot 34.9 percent from the floor as a group, lost point guard Rajon Rondo with a left ankle injury and used backup Sam Cassell for just 7 minutes and somehow nearly won.

The Los Angeles Lakers got 7-for-28 shooting from their four starters other than Kobe Bryant, saw Bryant miss seven free throws and Pau Gasol miss five and did win.

So who takes what out of all of that as the teams prepare for Game 4 of the NBA Finals tonight at the Staples Center?

"The losing team in that [situation] always says, 'As bad as we played, we had a chance to win the game,' " Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, glancing back at the Lakers' 87-81 victory Tuesday night. "And I can see our team liked to hear that. I said, 'Well, the Lakers are saying as bad as they played, they won the game.'

"I said, 'You can look at that either way you want, but the Lakers didn't play well, either.' Neither team had a very good game . . . But don't rest on the fact that you didn't play well. I thought a lot of it came down to making the big plays, the tougher plays the last 5 minutes. We played terrific defense, they got three offensive rebounds and scored on all three. I thought those were the difference."

Rivers, though, was more concerned about Rondo's injury than any shooting deficiencies from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Rondo played only 22 minutes in Game 3 and was unable to practice yesterday.

"He's sore and swollen," Rivers said.

Even with Cassell and Eddie House available as replacements, Rivers said he was at least considering the possibility of inserting Tony Allen as a starter.

"We've said over the past three games that we can't let all of their scorers hurt us - [Ray] Allen, Pierce and Garnett," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "If two of their three have good games, we have to keep one of their guys at a subpar game if we're going to have a chance to win. [Game 3] was a good example of that."

In this case, Pierce shot an uncharacteristic 2-for-14.

"Just keep shooting the ball," Pierce said. "I thought I had some pretty good looks. [I'm] really not discouraged at my opportunities. I really didn't see a lot of double-teaming. A lot of those looks I got were [ones] I can make. So just stay positive, and if I get those same looks I'm confident that they'll be in."

Pierce admitted he had been "a little anxious" playing in his hometown.

"I mean, you are in the NBA Finals," he said. "But I've been anxious every game, just the anticipation of being out there playing on the biggest stage in all of basketball . . . I've been out here and played well despite having family and friends, and it's time for me to do it again."

Bryant, who had a game-high 36 points in Game 3, said: "In this kind of series, I don't think there's any particular game that will carry over to the next. Every game is its own isolated thing.

"Whether [the Celtics] shoot well the next game . . . I don't know. We struggled as well. Pau didn't play too well, Lamar [Odom] didn't play too well, and I missed seven free throws. It just depends how you want to look at it."

Finals notes

Kobe Bryant was asked for his reaction to a blog by Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, in which Schilling described Bryant unflatteringly, screaming at his teammates late in Game 2 in Boston. "You're asking for my response to it?" Bryant asked. "Go Yankees. I mean, look, I know my team . . . We almost pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in history. It seemed to motivate them pretty well."

New affiliation

The 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be affiliated next season with Erie, Pa., one of two new teams in the NBA Development League. *