Lakers' Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol carry team to 115-105 victory over New York Knicks
The Madison Square Garden crowd is used to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant providing theatrics.
There was the arena-record 61-point performance last season, the 39-point effort nearly two years ago and the 40-plus-point outputs on two occasions four (score) and seven years ago. He provided nothing like that Friday, but he still led the Lakers to a fourth-quarter rally along with Pau Gasol that resulted in a 115-105 victory over the New York Knicks.
Bryant and Gasol combined for 23 of the team's 31 fourth-quarter points and outscored the Knicks in the final quarter by three points. Though the team presented a balanced supporting cast -- all five starters scored in double figures, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown combined for 20 points and Lamar Odom had a team-high 14 rebounds -- it was Bryant and Gasol who made the difference.
Sure, Byant and Gasol also had their issues. Bryant's 27 points came on eight-for-24 shooting, and his fractured right index finger appeared to worsen, specifically with 9:53 left in the third quarter where what appeared to be a fastbreak dunk morphed into an awkward layup that drew boos from the MSG crowd. Gasol allowed New York's David Lee to beat him for a layup in the fourth quarter, he yielded 16-first half points to Lee and he was partly responsible for the Knicks' grabbing eight offensive rebounds in the first half.
But Bryant and Gasol still overcame their lapses. Bryant's six assists illustrated his willingness to distribute the ball -- a necessity given that Bryant refuses to sit out and the team refuses to force him to rest. Though more shots may create more discomfort in his finger because of contact, more distribution will create more team balance and show Bryant's on-court presence alone is invaluable.
Meanwhile, Gasol's 20 points on seven-for-10 shooting, eight rebounds and four blocked shots are a far improvement from Thursday's effort against Cleveland. There he scored 13 points, shot five for 14 and then missed two field-goal attempts and two free throws in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter on Friday, however, he didn't play soft, a buzz word that reemerged after Thursday's loss. Instead he scored 10 points and showed some bravado, including pounding his chest after being fouled on a layup.
There were a few plays in the fourth quarter that illustrated the danger Bryant and Gasol present on the court.
An entry pass from Odom to Gasol left Knicks forward Jared Jeffries conflicted. While Knicks forward Wilson Chandler guarded Gasol in the post, Jeffries spaced evenly between Gasol and Bryant on the right block in case a double team was needed. But Jeffries jumped toward Bryant so he wouldn't have an open three-pointer, leaving Gasol with an easy one-on-one bucket against Chandler. On a play minutes later, Jeffries committed to Gasol on the double team, leaving Bryant uncontested from downtown, a shot that gave the Lakers a 104-93 advantage with 4:31 remaining.
The chemistry between Bryant and Gasol isn't anything new. That's why the Lakers yearned for Gasol's hamstrings to heal as fast as they could. But on a night that wasn't exactly the Lakers' best basketball against an inferior frontline, the Lakers came up with a win by resorting to a combination that has mostly worked all season.
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Photo:Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives past Knicks guard Larry Hughes in the third quarter Friday night. Credit: Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press.