BOSTON - The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are headed to a pivotal Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the latest big moment in basketball's biggest rivalry.
The Celtics can move a win away from an 18th championship, and a 10th in 12 meetings with the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant can inch closer to a fifth title, a chance to further cement his legacy.
Have to love it, right?
Not if you're Bryant.
"I'm miserable," he said Saturday.
That's because of the Celtics, who guarded him well in the fourth quarter of their 96-89 victory Thursday that evened the series at two games apiece, and simply won't allow him to be as spectacular as he was against Phoenix in the previous round.
Game 5 is Sunday, and the Lakers expect to have center Andrew Bynum back after he played only 12 minutes in Game 4 because of a sore right knee.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson thought Bryant looked tired in that game, and Bryant was even asked if he'd tweaked his knee. Combine that with all the talk of how well the Celtics have defended him, and suddenly those doubters that surfaced when Bryant looked so worn down late in the regular season are popping up again.
"That's what they do," Bryant said. "They show up, disappear, show up, disappear. That's part of it."
He can silence them again with a big effort Sunday. That's not easy against these Celtics, who didn't flinch when they had to face Dwyane Wade in the first round or LeBron James in the second, and weren't fazed when Bryant scored 30 in the Lakers' series-opening victory.
Bryant managed only two field goals in the decisive fourth quarter of Game 4, and Boston limited him to only one in the last 12 minutes of the previous game.
"They don't want me to beat them, so they put three guys there," Bryant said. "Nothing we haven't seen before, it's just when you win those games, like Game 3, nobody talks about that because we take advantage of it. And if you lose the game, everybody talks about that. It's part of the process."