On Dec. 4, Kobe Bryant nailed a dagger three-pointer off glass to beat the Miami Heat; on Dec. 16 in Milwaukee, Bryant dropped a 15-footer in overtime to crush the Bucks; just last Saturday in Sacramento, Bryant sank back-to-back threes in overtime to beat the Kings.
Perhaps Bryant was upset that neither of those triples in Sac-town came at the buzzer, because with the Kings in L.A. on Friday night, Bryant drilled home a perfectly-arched three-pointer as the final horn sounded to turn a loss into a 109-108 victory.
“He’s right with Michael (Jordan),” said Phil Jackson. “These players – I don’t know how they get themselves into these positions – but they do an unbelievable job of hitting shots that are remarkable shots, marvelous shots.”
How did it happen? After Ime Udoka had missed both free throws at the other end with 4.8 seconds remaining, Bryant caught a short lob pass from Pau Gasol after the Spaniard had collected the inbounds pass of Sasha Vujacic. Bryant pushed himself off Sergio Rodriguez, who’d come over on a switch, composed himself behind the three-point line and lofted a pure jumper that left his hand with 0.1 on the clock and rotated end-over-end until splashing through the net.
“It looks like they went into a zone coverage on the inbounds pass and that side was wide open,” explained Bryant. “It was just a matter of me getting to that spot with enough time to get a shot off.”
“I just started smiling and watched it go in,” said Jordan Farmar, who played nearly the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game. “I already knew it was going in. He made it and we just all started looking at each other, laughing.”
The triple was Bryant’s fifth of the game and fourth in the second half, in which the league’s leading scorer posted 27 of his game-high 39 points. In the process, he led the Lakers to their first come-back victory from a 20-point deficit since Dec. 12, 2006, against Houston.
It was an especially tough loss for a Kings team that stormed out of the gates to a 52-32 lead in the second quarter, thanks in part to terrific execution out of the pick and roll (61.4 percent first half shooting) and flat-out effort.
“It’s a big challenge to play the Lakers,” said Kings rookie forward Omri Casspi before the game. “For them it might just be another game to play the Kings, but wherever they go, people try to show up and play their best because it’s the Lakers and they are champions.”
Indeed, before Friday evening’s contest at STAPLES Center began, assistant coach Frank Hamblen recognized Casspi’s sentiment, and explicitly hoped that L.A.’s players realized just how feisty the young Kings can be particularly when they see purple and gold.
“We’ve stubbed our toe a few times playing against Sacramento over the years after they’d gone down (from) the great teams they had,” said Hamblen in our LakersTV chat. “You have to play hard every night. They bring it every night, especially against the Lakers.”
In that first half, the Lakers didn’t seem to get that.
Instead, center Spencer Hawes looked like Vlade Divac, making 6-of-8 shots (including a three-pointer), grabbing seven rebounds and finding cutters for four assists. Casspi channeled Peja Stojakovic, hitting 5-of-8 shots while grabbing four boards, and point guard Beno Udrih did a Mike Bibby impression to the tune of five points with six assists as the Kings jumped out to a 52-32 lead halfway through the second quarter.
They play 48 minutes, however, and the way L.A. came out of halftime, it appeared as if Hamblen spent some time with each and every Laker. And maybe a few extra minutes with Lamar Odom.
The lanky lefty, in fact, was fantastic to open the third, scoring 10 of L.A.’s first 13 points as the Lakers went on a 13-4 run to cut the lead down to just four in a heartbeat. The Kings would answer with a 6-0 spurt of their own, but Bryant took over in atonement for a 3-of-11 first half by nailing 6-of-9 shots in the third alone (including three three-pointers) for 16 points.
The duo was so good that they combined to score 28 of L.A.’s 30 points in the period, cutting a 15-point lead to just four until Casspi’s corner three with 10 seconds left made it 86-79 heading into the fourth quarter. The D wasn’t bad, either.
“Defense,” said Jackson. “We had a few turnovers, got some runs. That changed the game, got the momentum swung in our favor there in the third quarter.”
Halfway through the final quarter, Bryant (who’d had literally 45 seconds of rest for the whole game) dropped three consecutive jumpers in 1:15 of action to give the Lakers their first lead of the game at 95-93.
Yet the Kings refused to die, getting back-to-back threes from Hawes – who scored a career-high 30 points – to take a four-point lead with 2:02 remaining, only to see Odom and Gasol score back-to-back hoops, Pau’s plus the harm to push L.A. on top 104-103 with 1:14 to play.
Casspi, who played nothing like a rookie, scored the final three of his 23 points on a corner trey, before Shannon Brown’s two free throws tied things up at 106. Then it was Udrih’s turn, as the Slovenian finished off a beautiful spin move out of the high pick and roll (Sacramento’s bread and butter all night) to create a two-point margin with 10 seconds to go. Brown’s ensuing three-point attempt went in and out, which set up Udoka’s two missed free throws and Bryant’s heroics.
Just like that, the Lakers had won their league-best 26th game, with Dallas – who beat L.A. at home back in October – coming into town on Sunday.
Until then, your numbers:
61.4 Sacramento’s scorching hot shooting percentage in the first half, helping build a 64-49 lead for the Kings.
47:15 Minutes played by Kobe Bryant, who added five rebounds, five assists and a steal to his 39 points.
44 Second half points for the Kings, after 64 in the first half.
28 Combined points for Bryant (16) and Lamar Odom (12) in the third quarter, leading L.A. to a 30-22 advantage. Andrew Bynum had the team’s only other bucket.
20 Points for Odom in his first 20-point game of the season. He added 10 rebounds, three assists and a block.
16 Rebounds from Pau Gasol to lead the Lakers. The Spaniard added 17 points, a block, and the game-winning assist (four total) on Bryant’s game-winning three.
0 Fourth quarter minutes played by Derek Fisher for the second consecutive game after the veteran point guard again struggled with his shooting (1-of-10). Instead, Fisher was on the bench providing encouragement and support for Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, both of whom contributed positively in the final period.