BOSTON — Paul Pierce scored 24 and led a third-quarter surge as the Celtics routed the Lakers 116-95 on Thursday night, improving to 6-0 since losing point guard Rajon Rondo for the season with a torn knee ligament.
The Lakers had cut a 58-44 halftime deficit to 72-61 with 5:07 left in the third quarter. Then the Celtics went on a 23-8 run and led 95-69 going into the fourth. Pierce started the surge with a three-point play and ended it with a 3-pointer with 41 seconds left, giving him 12 points in the period.
Kobe Bryant scored 27 to lead the Lakers, who suffered their worst loss of the season despite the return of Dwight Howard after he missed three games with a sore right shoulder.
The Lakers had won six of their previous seven games, including all three without Howard, and had moved three games behind the Rockets for the final West playoff spot.
But they trailed by at least 11 points throughout the second half.
Previously, the Lakers' worst loss was 113-97 at Sacramento on Nov. 21.
Kevin Garnett had 15 points and became the 16th player in NBA history to score 25,000 when he hit an 11-foot turnaround jumper.
"It always feels good when you can give them a little old-fashioned beatdown in your house, no matter what direction these teams are going," Pierce said. "It'll always be a rivalry. Everybody's always going to watch."
Howard had nine points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes before fouling out with 5:07 left. Before the game, Howard had responded to Bryant, who said: "We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal. … We need some urgency."
"I want to play," Howard said. "(But) if I go down, then what? Everybody's life is going to go on. I don't want to have another summer where I'm rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year."
Union leader to fight: Billy Hunter, the players union leader who was put on indefinite leave last week by an interim executive committee, defended his reputation in an interview with the New York Times in the wake of an independent audit that assailed his business and hiring practices.
Hunter, 70, indicated he would not leave without a fight.
"I intend to exercise all my options as of this moment," said Hunter, who has led the union since 1996. He maintains he is owed $10.5 million on a contract that runs through 2016, even if he is fired.
The audit found no criminal wrongdoing by Hunter, although it concluded that he failed in his fiduciary obligations and had put personal and family gain ahead of union interests.
"Never. Absolutely not true," Hunter said. "They didn't find one dime missing."
Hunter said the union was $5 million in debt when he took over and now has $80 million in its reserves. Its members are among the most highly compensated athletes in the world.
"Where's the detriment?" he said.
Around the league: For the first time this season, the Clippers had all their players practicing Thursday, meaning if there are no setbacks, they could be at full strength against the Heat tonight. Forward Blake Griffin (hamstring) and guards Jamal Crawford (sore right shoulder), Chris Paul (bruised kneecap) and Chauncey Billups (tendinitis in his left foot) were listed as game-time decisions. … The Bulls and Raptors have had trade discussions that would send Carlos Boozer to the Raptors for Andrea Bargnani, ESPN reported. To make the salary-cap math work, other players with smaller contracts would have to be added to the deal. … Hawks guard Lou Williams had reconstructive surgery on his ACL tear in his right knee. Recovery can take from nine months to a year.
Celtics 116, Lakers 95
L.A. LAKERS (95): World Peace 2-13 1-2 5, Clark 2-6 1-2 5, Howard 4-8 1-6 9, Nash 4-9 0-0 9, Bryant 9-15 9-9 27, Jamison 4-9 2-4 11, Blake 2-5 2-4 7, Meeks 5-12 2-2 13, Duhon 1-2 0-0 2, Morris 0-0 0-0 0, Ebanks 2-6 0-0 5, Sacre 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 36-87 18-30 95.
BOSTON (116): Pierce 10-17 3-4 24, Bass 4-5 0-0 8, Garnett 6-10 3-4 15, Lee 6-12 0-0 13, Bradley 4-11 2-2 10, Collins 1-1 0-0 2, Green 6-13 6-6 19, Terry 5-6 3-5 15, Wilcox 3-4 2-4 8, Barbosa 0-6 0-0 0, Melo 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 46-87 19-25 116.
L.A. Lakers 23 21 25 26— 95
Boston 27 31 37 21— 116
3-Point Goals—L.A. Lakers 5-23 (Blake 1-1, Nash 1-2, Jamison 1-3, Ebanks 1-3, Meeks 1-5, Bryant 0-1, Duhon 0-1, Clark 0-2, World Peace 0-5), Boston 5-11 (Terry 2-2, Green 1-1, Lee 1-2, Pierce 1-4, Bradley 0-1, Barbosa 0-1). Fouled Out—Howard. Rebounds—L.A. Lakers 56 (Howard 9), Boston 54 (Wilcox 9). Assists—L.A. Lakers 16 (Nash 5), Boston 25 (Pierce 6). Total Fouls—L.A. Lakers 19, Boston 28. Technicals—L.A. Lakers defensive three second, Boston defensive three second. A—18,624.