BOSTON – The Boston Celtics tied up the NBA finals Thursday night, and they owe it more to “Big Baby” than the Big Three.

Backup Glen “Big Baby” Davis scored half of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Celtics’ bench as it pulled away from the Los Angeles Lakers to win 96-89 and even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

Game 5 will be Sunday night in Boston.

The Celtics’ win guaranteed them a trip back to Los Angeles and averted a 3-1 deficit that never has been overcome in NBA history.

Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and Pau Gasol had 21 for the Lakers.

Paul Pierce scored 19 points, Kevin Garnett had 13 and Ray Allen bounced back from a seven-quarter shooting slump to score 12 for Boston.

But the new Big Three that led the Celtics to their 17th NBA title in 2008, beating the Lakers in the finals, was on the bench for much of the fourth-quarter run that gave Boston the lead for good.

“I don’t think guys really care and that’s why we’re here. It really is,” Boston Coach Doc Rivers said of the extra minutes for the bench. “ It was great, you know. That’s the loudest I’ve seen our bench, the starters cheering from the bench. It was terrific.”

Bryant hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Lakers a 62-58 lead with 1:25 left in the third. Davis’ putback left the Celtics trailing by two points heading into the final quarter, and he scored underneath on a reverse layup in the opening minute of the fourth to tie it.

“Just will, that’s all it is,” Davis said. “They’re long, you just have to go out there and put a body on someone and make sure they don’t touch the ball.

“This is what legends are made of, this is where you grasp the moment. Just play in the moment.”

Gasol made a basket to give Los Angeles the lead — its last of the game — before Allen scored, Davis followed, Allen made another basket and Davis followed with a three-point play that made it 71-64 with 8:22 left.

In all, the Celtics scored 13 of 15 points during a five-minute span when Allen was the only starter on the court, mostly with Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson and Tony Allen. Robinson scored 12 points in 17 minutes as the Celtics’ bench outscored the Lakers’ 36-18; Odom had 10 of the Lakers’ points, playing 39 minutes after starting center Andrew Bynum tested his sore knee but didn’t play in the second half.

“We just knew we had to bring our energy, that’s the main thing for us,” Robinson said of his fellow reserves. “The more energy we bring, the better offensively we are and the better defensively we are.”

Ray Allen, who had a record eight 3-pointers in Game 2, then went 0 of 13 from the field in Game 3, made his first basket but then went cold again, missing his next six shots before snapping out of it. He finished 4 of 11 from the field, missing all four 3-pointers, and scored 10 points in the second half.

The Celtics led 74-66, their biggest lead of the game to that point, when Wallace was called for a foul after knocking the ball away from Bryant under the basket. Wallace argued and drew a technical, his sixth of the playoffs, meaning he and Kendrick Perkins are one away from a one-game suspension.

Bryant missed the free throw for the technical but hit the other free throws to bring the Lakers within six points. It was still a six-point game when Wallace hit a 3-pointer to make it 79-70. Robinson drew a technical for getting in Odom’s face after a hard foul; Derek Fisher missed that free throw, and after Robinson hit his free throws Boston had an 81-72 lead with 5:39 left.

 

NOTES: The Celtics missed seven shots from inside five feet in the first quarter alone. Bynum, who is struggling with a knee injury, played 11 minutes in the first half but none in the second. The Celtics were 4 of 8 on free throws in the first half but made all 11 in the fourth quarter. They shot 63 percent in the fourth after making just 41 percent in the first half.

 

THE BALL bounces out of bounds. Players immediately point in opposite directions. Coaches leap to their feet and scream at the officials.

The referee makes the call but isn’t certain.

Time to go to the videotape.

The league’s expansion of instant replay to include out-of- bounds calls in the final minutes has played a role in these NBA finals.

The referees went to the monitor three times near the end of Game 3, three chances for better looks at the kinds of close calls that can swing series.

“Certainly the replay system worked in terms of being able to review some of our most crucial possessions at the end of the game,” said Stu Jackson, the league’s executive vice president of basketball operations.

Yet one of those reviews opened the debate about whether the replay system needed further tweaking. The NBA already has those discussions.

“We’re going to keep striving to balance the desire and need to get it right with the fact that we are a two-hour game heading to four if we have too much replay,” Commissioner David Stern said.

But the league already believes this: A little more than a week after baseball faced cries to add more review after an incorrect call cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game, instant replay is the way to go.