The AP reports: Paul Pierce, who as a kid growing up in Los Angeles used to sneak into Lakers games, returned from a knee injury to inspire and lead Boston to an emotional and tense 98-88 victory on Thursday night in Game 1 of these tradition-soaked NBA finals… Kevin Garnett scored 24 points, Pierce finished with 22—11 after going down—and Ray Allen, the third member of Boston’s Big Three, added 19 for the Celtics, who are chasing a 17th NBA championship. The trio was making its first finals appearance, and for a short time it appeared only two of them would finish their long-awaited debut. With 6:49 left in the third quarter, Pierce was deep in the lane when teammate Kendrick Perkins crashed into him from behind, crumpling Boston’s No. 34 to the court. The 10-year veteran, who last summer thought his days with Boston might be nearing an end, had to be carried from the court in extreme pain and was taken to Boston’s locker room in a wheelchair… Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 24 points, but the regular-season MVP was just 9-of-26 from the field as the league’s top defensive team kept close tabs on him. Bryant, attempting to win a fourth NBA title—and first without Shaquille O’Neal—had numerous shots rattle out and spent most of his 42 minutes in the game searching for a rhythm.

Ticker reports: And it was most evident late in the first half, when Bryant - who is known for hoisting up shots in bunches - passed up a wide-open 3-pointer, drew Garnett out to him and dished off to Gasol, who was fouled. The ensuing two free throws gave Los Angeles a 49-44 lead with 1:36 left before halftime, when the Lakers held a 51-46 lead. But Bryant, who scored 24 points on 9-of-26 shooting, was forced to be a one-man show by the Celtics’ defense in the second half. “We got a little stagnant,” Bryant said. “I think our rhythm wasn’t there, wasn’t what we like it to be. Still, we played well enough to almost steal the game - some balls bounced their way tonight. They scrapped and they clawed their way to this victory.” Boston also was buoyed by Allen, who scored 19 points to help his team to its fourth straight Game One victory this postseason.

InsideHoops.com Stat Notes: Both teams shot around 42%, and both struggled from three-point range, but Boston fared a bit better from outside. The Celtics also hit 28-of-35 free throws, the Lakers 21-of-28. The Celtics won the rebounds category, 46-33. Assists were close. The Celtics committed 7 more turnovers.

For the Celtics, Kevin Garnett (just 9-of-22) had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Paul Pierce (7-of-10, 3 threes) had 22 points and not too much else. Ray Allen on 13 shots had 19 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists (but 4 turnovers). Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists. Off the bench, James Posey and PJ Brown combined for 2-of-10 shooting.

For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant (just 9-of-26) had 24 points, just 3 rebounds, 6 assists but 4 turnovers. Derek Fisher on just 9 shots had 15 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Pau gasol (6-of-11) had 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Lamar Odom (6-of-11) had 14 points, just 6 rebounds, and little else. No other Lakers were particularly good.

Game 2 is Sunday in Boston. The next three games (if Game 5 happens) are in los Angeles. Games 6 and 7, if they happen, are in Boston.