Kobe Lowers Broom
Kobe Bryant, 22, clapped his hands, eased his head backward and sighed. He looked to his left, at Phil Jackson, and smiled.
A second-and-a-half remained in a series that belonged first to Shaquille O’Neal and then to Bryant, who Sunday afternoon scored 48 points and took 16 rebounds and stepped again toward whatever it is he’s so desperately playing to become.
“I was just so happy that we won,” he said.
At the conclusion of a trying weekend that included a round-trip flight to Los Angeles to be at his ailing wife’s bedside, Bryant played every bit of 48 minutes and shoved the Lakers into the Western Conference finals. They defeated the Sacramento Kings, 119-113, at Arco Arena, which bade farewell to Chris Webber and to a season that appeared to promise more than a second-round sweep at the hands of Bryant, O’Neal and the Super Friends.
The conference finals could begin as early as Saturday in San Antonio, assuming the Spurs eliminate the Dallas Mavericks by then. They lead, 3-1.
“Kobe was just fantastic,” Sacramento Coach Rick Adelman said. “He was possessed. Even when he missed shots he got them back.”
The Lakers have won 15 consecutive games, the last seven in the playoffs. Rarely have they grinded as they did to eliminate the Kings, however. O’Neal, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds, fouled out with 3:09 remaining. Rick Fox, whose defense on Peja Stojakovic changed the flow of the Sacramento offense, fouled out with 27 seconds remaining.
And so at the end of a 39-point Laker fourth quarter, at the end of a series in which he averaged 35 points and a stretch in which he and O’Neal have never played better together, Bryant looked to Jackson and just smiled. He had played himself ragged, gathering nine offensive rebounds. His points were a career playoff high, his total rebounds a career high. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and 28 in the second half and then hugged every one of his teammates when Arco went quiet for the summer.
“He’s 22 years of age,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what you were like when you were 22, but I doubt that you’d want to be reported about every day, about your behavior and how mature you were at that age. But his enthusiasm infuses this basketball club. That’s a real important factor to remember, that he’s got the energy, the drive, the moxie and also a feel, an uncanny instinctual feel for this basketball game that’s really showing.”
Bryant scored 36 points in Game 3, hours after learning that his new wife, Vanessa, had been taken to the hospital because of a pain in her left side. He flew to Los Angeles late Friday night and stayed until Saturday night, returning to Sacramento only when he was sure her pain had subsided and she would recover.
“It was a scary situation,” he said.
He said it was not a distraction, and played like it.
“We needed to be challenged,” Bryant said. “We needed a gut check going into the next series. It looks like it’ll be San Antonio. We needed to go into San Antonio feeling like we’re playing our best basketball, and playing in some tough times. I’d much more appreciate this win, as opposed to us blowing them out or them just rolling over.
“I was prepared to do whatever. I was going to run and push myself to exhaustion. It doesn’t matter. Every rebound. Every loose ball. I think my teammates understood that. To us, it was like a life-or-death situation. We just weren’t going to lose.”
After holding small leads until well into the second quarter, the Lakers allowed a 37-point second quarter to the Kings and didn’t lead again until early in the fourth quarter when, convinced the King offense had found its footing, they had their most prolific quarter of the postseason.
The Lakers made 12 of 18 field-goal attempts in the final quarter. Robert Horry scored eight points in the quarter, including three of four free throws down the stretch. Brian Shaw made two of three shots, including a late three-pointer.
In the final possessions, the Kings made two critical turnovers, the first when Ron Harper helped strip Doug Christie near the baseline and the second when Webber threw a crisp pass from near the free-throw line that Harper picked off. Stojakovic, who scored 26 points, missed a three-pointer with the Kings behind, 115-110, and the Lakers made their last six free throws.
Derek Fisher scored 20 points and Horry, who had a critical late block on a dunk attempt by rookie Hedo Turkoglu, scored 11 in 24 minutes.
Mostly, though, it was Bryant, as O’Neal found himself in early foul trouble, and fought through the most aggressive double teams of the postseason.
“His maturity in this series I think really showed,” Jackson said. “His ability to not only generate scoring for us but also to have the kind of assuredness and poise that bled into the other players as they fed off his energy.”
Bryant accepted. Mostly, though, he wanted to get home.
“It puts things in perspective a little bit more, you know,” Bryant said of his frenetic weekend. “You understand that this is just a game and the love I have at home with my wife meaning so much to me, it’s important she stays in good health because she means so much to me.”
For expanded coverage of the Laker-King series, including photo galleries and postgame interviews, please visit the Times’ Web site: https://www.latimes.com/nbaplayoffs
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Leading scorers in a game . . .
IN THIS YEAR’S PLAYOFFS
54 Allen Iverson, Philadelphia May 9 vs. Toronto 50 Vince Carter, Toronto May 11 vs. Philadelphia 48 Kobe Bryant, Lakers May 13 at Sacramento 44 Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers May 8 vs. Sacramento 43 Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers May 6 vs. Sacramento
IN L.A. LAKER PLAYOFF HISTORY*
61 Elgin Baylor April 14, 1962 at Boston 53 Jerry West April 23, 1969 vs. Boston 52 Jerry West April 5, 1965 vs. Baltimore 49 Elgin Baylor March 15, 1961 vs. Detroit 49 Jerry West April 3, 1965 vs. Baltimore 48 Jerry West April 9, 1965 at Baltimore 48 Kobe Bryant May 13, 2001 at Sacramento
* Since 1961
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BY THE NUMBERS
48: Kobe Bryant’s points Sunday--a personal playoff high.
16: Bryant’s rebounds--the first Laker to lead in that category other than Shaquille O’Neal
in last 15 games.
15: Consecutive Laker victories since a 79-78 loss to New York April 1.
8: Consecutive Laker victories in playoffs dating to last season.
9: Sweeps by Lakers in seven-game series since team moved to L.A.
215: Points by Bryant in seven playoff games.
214: Points by O’Neal in seven playoff games.
Lakers win, 4-0
Lakers 108, Sacramento 105
Lakers 96, Sacramento 90
Lakers 103, Sacramento 81
Lakers 119, Sacramento 113
A look at the series:
106.5 Points PG 97.3 48.0 Rebounds PG 44.0 19.8 Assists PG 15.8 .475 FG% .403
Thanks to the Lakers, an era has ended in Sacramento. J.A. Adande’s column. D11
NBC tried, but couldn’t get Chris Webber to reveal his plans. Mike Penner’s column. D11