[photogallerylink id=27921 align=right]Kobe Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol added 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers emphatically extended the NBA finals to a decisive seventh game with a 89-67 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

Ron Artest added 15 points for the Lakers, who stared down elimination by jumping to a 22-point lead during a dazzling first half. With remarkable ease, the defending champions stretched the finals to the limit for the first time since 2005.

A champion will be crowned Thursday night at Staples Center.

Ray Allen scored 19 points for the Celtics, who took an ugly pratfall on the verge of winning their unprecedented 18th title. It turns out their longtime rivals are still quite serious about earning their 16th.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Kobe Bryant scored 15 points as the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to save their season, opened a 51-31 lead over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night at halftime of Game 6 of the NBA finals.

Trying to force the first Game 7 in the finals in five years, the Lakers led by as much as 22 in a dominant performance over the first 24 minutes after dropping the last two games to fall into a 3-2 deficit.

Ron Artest, who has struggled offensively, added 10 points, while the Lakers’ reserves played a key role in a huge second-quarter spurt.

Ray Allen scored 13 points for the Celtics, making his first 3-pointer since hitting an NBA finals-record eight in Game 2. But backcourt mate Rajon Rondo had only two points on 1-of-8 shooting.

The Celtics lost center Kendrick Perkins to a right knee injury and had plenty of other problems, shooting poorly and getting crushed on the backboards after moving themselves to the brink of an 18th title.

It would take a huge comeback for it to come Tuesday.

Game 7 would be Thursday, and would be the first winner-take-all game in the NBA finals since San Antonio beat Detroit in 2005.

The Lakers shot 60 percent in the first quarter and moved the ball much better than they did in Boston, when too often their only offense was Bryant.

Boston had a two-point lead after Allen finally connected from behind the arc again, but the Lakers answered with a 16-4 run to make it 26-16 on Artest’s 3-pointer with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.

The Celtics lost Perkins during the run when he went down after grabbing an offensive rebound and getting fouled by Andrew Bynum. Perkins went to the floor and eventually was helped by two teammates to the back, where the team said he would get X-rays.

It was 28-18 after one quarter, and the Lakers quickly blew it open even while Bryant was getting some rest. A 10-2 surge increased the lead to 17. After Paul Pierce’s basket, Sasha Vujacic made a 3-pointer. Jordan Farmar threw down a powerful dunk on the fast break to extend it to 45-25 midway through the period.

It peaked at 22 on Bryant’s jumper, and the Lakers brought a 51-31 advantage to the break even after making only one basket in the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Los Angeles outrebounded Boston 30-13.

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