Kobe Bryant gets hot for one shot, and Lakers get stunning win in Boston
The shots kept missing, one after the other, Kobe Bryant misfiring on five of six in the final quarter.
He was colder than cold, more so than the 14-degree weather outside, an inopportune time for inconsistency on a team that desperately needed to allay concerns about not being tough enough.
Phil Jackson had already asked if Bryant’s left ankle was bothering him. Then he wondered why Bryant kept missing shots that normally went down.
But Bryant assured Jackson during a late timeout that he would make his next shot.
None of it should be surprising anymore, but Bryant buried a 16-footer over Ray Allen with 7.3 seconds to play, pushing the Lakers to a 90-89 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday at TD Garden.
It completed a late run by the Lakers, who trailed by 11 with 9:17 to play but turned up the defense, holding the Celtics to seven points and forcing five turnovers the rest of the way.
In the greater context, they showed they could hang with a physical Eastern Conference team, a necessity after a grinding, pounding loss in Cleveland that had started their eight-game trip a long 10 days earlier. They now stand a respectable 5-2 on their voyage, which concludes tonight in Memphis.
After being humiliated here in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, the Lakers (37-11) have won their last two games in Boston.
They can thank Bryant, sore ankle and all.
“I couldn’t push off,” said Bryant, who was injured Friday after tripping over Philadelphia forward Elton Brand.
“Ray’s athletic, but my elevator goes to the 12th floor and his stays at the seventh. But I couldn’t get to the 12th floor today. I was hurting.”
Apparently, he made it to at least the eighth floor on his final shot, squaring up and scoring from just beyond the free-throw line with the shot clock under four seconds. Allen then missed a three-point attempt at the final horn.
Bryant finished with 19 points, leaving him 28 shy of Jerry West’s franchise career record, and made only eight of 20 shots.
Jackson one-upped Bryant, catching Pat Riley for most victories as a Lakers coach, improving to 533-253.
There were many areas to spotlight, many places in which to peer.
Ron Artest was solid defensively on Paul Pierce, helping hold the Celtics forward to 15 points on four-for-11 shooting. Artest also made a driving layup that rolled along the rim before dropping through with 45.3 seconds to play, bringing the Lakers to within 89-88.
Artest then drew a charge on Pierce with 27.5 seconds left, setting up Bryant’s go-ahead shot . . . though not without controversy. Pierce was not happy after being called for pushing off with his left arm.
“I thought I made a good move,” he said. “I got to my sweet spot. I guess the ref saw it differently and he made the call.”
Said Artest: “I know I was sliding my feet and then I was off-balance. The ref saw something. I can’t even remember if he touched me or not because sometimes people hit me and I don’t feel it. If it’s a good call, then you’ve got to make the call.”
Tension between Pierce and Artest started before the opening tip, when they jostled each other with their elbows as players lined up around the midcourt circle. Referee Marc Davis had to step in and admonish them.
“I was in my position and he tried to put his leg over my position,” Artest said. “But if you’re not strong enough, you shouldn’t be fighting with me. If you really can’t match my strength then why even try to pick a fight? Why even try to tussle? I was on the white line and you cannot cross my line. I’m so stubborn anyway, you know I’m not going to let you do that.”
The first quarter might have the Lakers’ most active on defense this season, punctuated by Jordan Farmar’s running in front of a bad Allen pass and dunking at the other end, giving the Lakers a 30-17 lead.
Boston answered with some defense of its own, going on a 35-12 run and taking a 52-42 lead.
Point guard Rajon Rondo finished with 21 points and 12 assists, one of few highlights for the Celtics (29-16), who tumbled to fourth place in the Eastern Conference, seven games behind Cleveland.
Then again, the Lakers weren’t that far from losing despite 19 points and 11 rebounds from a keyed-up Andrew Bynum.
Jackson was concerned about Bryant, who finished with six points in the fourth quarter.
“He had a couple looks before that that were good looks in that area and we were mystified that he couldn’t put it in,” Jackson said. “But he told me the next one he got there, he was going to drop it in.”
Bryant didn’t lie. The Lakers are almost home, one victory from a successful 6-2 trip.
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