Kobe Bryant leads late-game effort in Lakers' 115-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors
The glaring eyes, the quick dribble, the efficient footwork, the acrobatic shot and the relentless confidence to duplicate such artwork over and over again became so ordinary for Kobe Bryant to pull off, but forever extraordinary to watch.
But there was perhaps one play that defined Bryant's will to carry the Lakers to a 115-110 victory Wednesday over the Golden State Warriors, marking the team's sixth consecutive victory. After being heavily guarded by guard Monta Ellis, Bryant dribbled left, split a double team in the lane and threw up a nearly impossible shot off the backboard. Once the bucket dropped, Bryant simply wagged his bandaged right index finger, a symbolic gesture appearing to chastise anyone who thinks they can stop him.
Bryant's team-leading 39 points on 13-of-21 shooting and an 11-of-11 mark from the charity stripe simply lifted the Lakers to an exciting finish that featured plenty of areas hard to exactly gauge given the unconventional nature of Golden State's up-and-down style. Did the Lakers' defense regress after allowing the Warriors to score 110 points, shoot 50.6% and enable Monta Ellis to nearly match Bryant's production with 38 points on 15-of-26 shooting. Or did the Lakers' failure to limit opponents from driving the middle of the lane, its inability to limit Golden State's 43.3% mark from three-point range and the Warriors' 31 points in transition show there's plenty of work the Lakers need to sharpen in their new defensive scheme. On the positive note, did the Lakers' frontline dominance in Pau Gasol (24), Lamar Odom (20) and Andrew Bynum (11) and 47-27 rebounding edge show continual improvement or simply expose the Warriors' lacking size.
The Lakers will address both the good and the bad, but it doesn't seem that there's anything definitive to take away from this game other than the Lakers continued down the winning track. Therefore, Laker fans should just view this game for simply its entertainment value: Bryant put on a show, did it within the context of the offense and lifted the team to victory.
Surely, the Lakers' fourth-quarter run began with Odom scoring 12 fourth-quarter points to give the team an 87-86 lead with 6:37 remaining. But after that point, Bryant took over the workload as the team still remained engaged. He started by hitting a corner three-pointer over Ellis. After hitting a pair of free throws, Bryant completed the play described at the top of the post that gave the Lakers a 97-93 lead following the three-point play with 3:10 left.
Less than a minute later, Bryant squared up at the top of the key, drove to the right block, pivoted left and then pulled up for a jumper that swished into the net and widened the gap to 99-95. After Ellis answered with an uncontested drive to the lane with a reverse layup, Bryant played facilitator. He drove to the right block, pump faked and then threw the ball out to the corner to Ron Artest, who drained a three-pointer to give the Lakers a 102-97 lead. And to cap it off, Bryant held the ball at the top of the key, eyed up with Ellis and drained a three-pointer in his face.
With the shot giving the Lakers a 105-99 lead with 43 seconds remaining, it all but sealed the Lakers fate. Bryant walked back to the sideline after a timeout spreading out his arms, a gesture fans have seen plenty of times during his storied 15-year career. But in what otherwise amounted to a regular-season game that held little big-picture implications, Bryant reminded everyone again how it never gets old to watch.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant shoots over Golden State guard Monta Ellis during the first half of the Lakers' 115-110 victory Wednesday. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press