BOSTON (AP) — Kevin Garnett scored, rebounded, blocked shots and shouted directions to teammates.
Steal the ball? He did that, too. Five times.
Garnett’s best all-around performance of the NBA finals lacked one memorable gesture. Boston’s emotional leader didn’t kiss the leprechaun symbol at center court the way he did two years ago moments after the Celtics won their 17th championship.
But his brilliance in their 92-86 win over the Lakers on Sunday night helped the Celtics move one win away from their 18th title even though the clincher will have to come in Los Angeles.
Leading 3-2, Boston can finish the series in Game 6 on Tuesday night or Game 7 on Thursday.
In the Celtics’ final home game of the season, Garnett did it all — 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and those five steals.
“The severity of the game is huge,” Garnett said. “You don’t want to go back to L.A. with them having a chance to close out and it being on their floor.
“I got my hands on a lot of loose balls. Some knucklehead plays in the fourth quarter that I would like to have back, but I’ll watch film and apply them to the next game.”
Garnett sank his first five shots and didn’t miss until 4:30 remained in the third quarter. He went 6 for 7 from the free throw line.
“He just had great energy,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “We extended his minutes a little more tonight than we thought we would have to. He was sensational. That’s what we need from him.”
Garnett is Boston’s most intense player but, at times, tried to keep his teammates calm in the huddle.
“That tells you how screwed up we are,” Rivers said with a smile. “Kevin Garnett is calming our team down.”
“I have no idea what Doc’s talking about,” Garnett said.
Down the stretch, Garnett made two critical plays.
The Lakers cut the lead to 81-75 on a putback by Lamar Odom, and the Celtics called timeout with 6:02 left.
When they came out of the break, Garnett connected from the foul line for an eight-point lead.
He delivered again when Kobe Bryant tried to pass into the lane. Garnett got a hand on the ball, and he and Odom tied it up. Garnett won the jump ball, but Paul Pierce missed a shot on that possession. Rajon Rondo, though, tipped in the ball to give Boston an 87-75 lead with 3:55 remaining.
Garnett had an outstanding defensive game, helping to hold Pau Gasol to 12 points.
“In the second half, it looked like (Gasol) broke away, went by Garnett, got to the front of the hoop and (Garnett) blocked it from behind,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Now the star who went as far as the Western Conference finals just once in 12 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves stands on the brink of his second championship in three years with the Celtics.
During his trip to the West finals in 2004, the Lakers were the opponent and a six-game elimination was the result. Garnett had 22 points and 17 rebounds in the last game, but also committed eight turnovers in the 96-90 loss.
On Sunday, he had just 3.
“I think a couple of guys maybe thought KG lost a step or something when he struggled in the first few games” against the Lakers, Rondo said, “but he’s caught his rhythm, doing intangibles on the court, scoring, rebounding, assisting, blocking shots. He’s changing the game.
“He’s happy with his role, and he’s doing it well.”
Garnett’s worst game of the series was Game 2. The Celtics won 103-94 in Los Angeles but he had just six points and four rebounds with no steals or blocks.
“I’m down on myself about being proactive and being in the game and doing multiple things,” Garnett said before practice Saturday.
One day later, that’s exactly what he did.
When the game ended after a missed shot by the Lakers, Garnett stood under the Los Angeles basket, raised his right fist ever so slightly and walked calmly off the court. He has one more game to win.
The Celtics leave for Los Angeles on Monday morning with a 3-2 series lead that Garnett helped build. He hopes to return Wednesday with another title.
“They’re playing at home. Home is always where your heart is,” Garnett said. “This will probably be the hardest game of the season, if not the series, if not of everybody’s career.”