HOUSTON A stubborn old man put the Los Angeles Lakers within one victory of the second round.
Karl Malone wouldn't change his ripped jersey, wouldn't act his age and wouldn't admit he did anything dirty. Most of all, he wouldn't let the Los Angeles Lakers lose control of the series.
On a day when the Rockets nearly evened things up by shutting Los Angeles down in the fourth quarter, Malone's best game of the playoffs and perhaps the entire season led the Lakers to a 92-88 victory and a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series Sunday.
''He had a great game,'' teammate Gary Payton said, understating the obvious.
With the intensity level taking a decided tick upward and the distaste between the coaches taking a foul-mouthed turn, the 40-year-old Malone had 30 points and 13 rebounds while playing with the energy of someone half his age.
Game 5 is Wednesday night, with Houston trying to stay alive after coming so close just as in Game 1 yet failing to win.
Houston held Los Angeles scoreless over the final 4 1/2 minutes of regulation and led by as many as four in overtime before Los Angeles closed the game with an 8-1 run.
Malone surpassed his regular-season scoring high by 10 points, playing most of the game with a ripped jersey after he sparked a first-half altercation.
''They tried to get me to change it, they said it looked bad for TV. I said I don't care, I'm wearing my shirt,'' Malone said.
Kobe Bryant scored six of his 18 points in overtime, including a three-point play that put the Lakers ahead for good with 40 seconds left. Malone then stole the ball from Steve Francis, and the Lakers let the clock run down, After Derek Fisher missed a jumper, Malone grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled clinching the victory by making a free throw and then walking away with a satisfied grin.
Malone had been criticized a day earlier by Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, who said he should be suspended for being a dirty player, and he got into it with Francis after undercutting Rockets forward Bostjan Nachbar.
The tension also extended to Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, who cursed loudly and directly at longtime nemesis Phil Jackson late in the first quarter, then sprinted onto the court during a fracas moments later.
O'Neal was not a big part of the offense for the Lakers, scoring 17 points with 12 rebounds. Malone helped make up for it and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only 40-year olds to score 20 or more points in a postseason game.
Pacers 90, Celtics 75
BOSTON The Indiana Pacers reversed their recent history and swept the Boston Celtics out of the playoffs.
Ron Artest scored 22 points and Jermaine O'Neal had 18 to lead the Pacers to a 4-0 victory in the best-of-seven series. It's Indiana's first victory in a playoff series after three consecutive first-round losses.
The Pacers advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals and thanks to the sweep, they will have more than a week to rest.
Paul Pierce had 27 points and 11 rebounds and Mark Blount had 21 and 13 for the Celtics, who went away meekly for the third time in the series.
The loss just the third four-game sweep in Celtics playoff history could signal the end for interim coach John Carroll, who took over when Jim O'Brien resigned Jan. 27. Carroll lost 12 of his first 13 games but managed to eek out the last playoff spot in the East with a record that was 10 games under .500.
Nets 100, Knicks 94
NEW YORK There was nothing fake about the New Jersey Nets' sweep of the New York Knicks.
The defending Eastern Conference champions are in the second round of the NBA playoffs and are very much for real.
Kenyon Martin shook off the verbal jabs from injured New York forward Tim Thomas and scored 36 points 13 in the fourth quarter to lead New Jersey to its third straight sweep in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 100-94 victory Sunday night.
Thomas, who missed his third straight game because of back spasms, sat on the bench in uniform but couldn't provide any assistance. Earlier in the series, he referred to Martin as ''fugazy'' a slang term for a fake.
Martin also grabbed 13 rebounds, and Jason Kidd had 20 points and seven assists for the Nets, who have won 14 consecutive postseason games against Eastern opponents, dating to last year when they reached the NBA Finals for the second straight season.
Stephon Marbury had 31 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, for the Knicks who built an 85-79 lead with 6:50 left but couldn't hold on.
Spurs 110, Grizzlies 97
MEMPHIS, Tenn. The defending champion San Antonio Spurs needed just four games to end the Memphis Grizzlies' breakthrough season and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Tony Parker matched his career high with 29 points and had a postseason-best 13 assists to help the Spurs sweep the Grizzlies with a 110-97 victory Sunday night.
The Spurs have won 15 straight regular-season and playoff games. It also was San Antonio's first series sweep since beating Portland in 1999 en route to its first NBA title.
Tim Duncan celebrated his 28th birthday with 26 points for the Spurs. Robert Horry had 14 off the bench, and Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili each added 10.
Pau Gasol led the Grizzlies with 22 points.
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