BOSTON (AP) — Paul Pierce scored 24 points and led a third-quarter surge as the Boston Celtics routed the Los Angeles 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 win was Boston’s biggest of the season.
The Lakers had won six of their previous seven games, including all three without Howard, and had moved three games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
But they trailed by at least 11 points throughout the second half.
Previously, the Celtics’ biggest win was 94-75 at Indiana on Jan. 4, and 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 that gave him six for the game and put the Celtics ahead 39-29 with 8:08 left in the half. Jeff Green had 19 points and Jason Terry added 15.
Howard had nine points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes before fouling out with 5:07 left. Metta World Peace also was back after a one-game suspension for grabbing Detroit’s Brandon Knight around the neck and striking him in the jaw with the knuckles of his mostly open hand in the Lakers’ 98-97 win Sunday.
But Pau Gasol missed his first game since being sidelined indefinitely with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.
Besides Rondo, rookie forward Jared Sullinger also is out for the season after undergoing back surgery and sat out his fourth game.
Just three years ago, the teams met in the NBA Finals with the Lakers winning in seven games. Only four players on those teams were active Thursday — Bryant and World Peace for Los Angeles and Pierce and Garnett for Boston. Gasol and Rondo also played in that series.
The Celtics led by 14 at halftime after hitting 51.1 percent of their shots while the Lakers kept missing open jumpers and sank just 37.8 percent of theirs, including just 2 of 12 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Los Angeles’ last lead, 11-10, came on a 12-foot turnaround fadeaway by Bryant with 6:38 left in the first quarter.
Boston led 27-23 going into the second and built it to 55-40 when Garnett drew two defenders to him under the basket and passed to Chris Wilcox for a dunk with 2:35 left.
Boston took its biggest lead of the half, 58-42 on two free throws by Pierce with 37 seconds to go.