And that's why you need Kobe Bryant. The Lakers lost to the Celtics on Thursday when they mustered just 17 points in the fourth quarter and just two points in the last 7 minutes. The Lakers were just as inept on offense last night in the fourth against the Grizzlies except for one HUGE difference. Last night, Kobe Bryant returned to the lineup. Bryant hit the game-winning three-pointer and scored 32 points to lift the Lakers over the Grizzlies, 99-98.
It was as if Bryant never left. He let the game come to him as he usually does early in the contest. The Lakers went inside early until they needed Kobe to bail them out. Three minutes into the contest, Bryant received the ball with a couple ticks left on the shot clock and got O.J. Mayo to bite on the pump fake, rose up, drew contact and knocked down the three. He converted the four-point play and just like that Bryant announced he was 100 percent. If there was any doubt at all, he wiped that away with his breakaway dunk (pictured) later in the first. His ankle is just fine.
The Lakers looked sharp and the Grizzlies were having trouble holding onto the ball. The Griz turned it over six times in the first and that helped the Lakers build a 27-16 lead.
But in the middle two periods it was the Lakers turn to be friendly and turn the ball over. They had 13 turnovers in the 2nd and 3rd quarter and the Lakers defense had no life. The Grizzlies worked it inside and attacked the rim. It was one of the few times all season the Lakers have been outscored in the paint. The Grizzlies held a 52-48 advantage largely due to Zach Randolph who finished 8 for 12 for 20 points.
Heading into the fourth the Lakers trailed 81-76. The lead was 89-82 just shortly after Kobe entered the game with under 8 minutes to play. Much like the game against the Celtics, they did all they could do blow this game. Derek Fisher missed a pair of free throws and Pau Gasol missed three of four from the line. Ron Artest missed a wide-open three-pointer and both Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar had bad passes picked off by O.J. Mayo. But the difference was Kobe. He had 11 points in the quarter and scored the last 9 for the Lakers.
When Bryant rose up and nailed a three-pointer with 54 seconds left to tie the game the Grizzlies knew it was over. He had only tied it but they knew. Their entire bench slumped over with their face in their hands. Rudy Gay gave the Grizzlies a 98-96 lead on the very next possession but the Lakers had the ball and could hold for the final shot with 18.8 seconds remaining. Bryant actually drove early and attempted a lay-up but it was blocked and the Lakers maintained possession with nine seconds left. Odom received the inbounds pass, Gasol set the screen on O.J. Mayo for Kobe and Odom hit Bryant at the three-point line wide open. Of course he hit it. It seems like he always does. Mayo went to the right of the screen to protect the basket and gave Bryant a great look he knocked down. Bryant left 4.3 seconds left on the clock but Mayo missed a tough fadeaway at the buzzer.
The win keeps the Lakers a half game back of the Cavaliers for the best record in the NBA. The Lakers will have a tough test tomorrow as they travel to Dallas to take on the new look Mavs. The Mavericks have won four out of five since acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.
-Andrew Bynum did his usual disappearing act. He had 11 points in the first half and just four in the second. This time he was in a bit of foul trouble but it's a continuing trend that's somewhat baffling.
-Ron Artest was awful. He hit 1 of 9 shots and scored just 3 points. And it was a bad 1 for 9. He had some wide open looks and missed a three-pointer in the fourth from the top of the key that was wide left by probably two feet.