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Kobe Bryant provides late heroics vs. Pistons, will skip trip to Phoenix

Lakers star Kobe Bryant shoots a jump shot over the outstretched hand of a Pistons defender in the Lakers' 97-85 victory.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant shoots a jump shot over the outstretched hand of a Pistons defender in the Lakers’ 97-85 victory.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

No matter what happens from now until his last game, Kobe Bryant can still influence the way things happen for the Lakers.

He did it the wrong way for 40-something minutes, missing shots aplenty and tossing careless passes as fans bemoaned his poor choices and cheered his few positive plays.

They still pay good money to see the best from the 37-year-old. They got it near the end of the Lakers’ 97-85 victory Sunday over the Detroit Pistons.

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Bryant had a late three-pointer that seemed to bury the Pistons and added an assist to Roy Hibbert for a dunk, blowing through the unofficial 32-minute ceiling the Lakers crafted for him and coming close to a triple-double — 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in almost 36 minutes.

His accuracy continued to be an issue — six for 19 on Sunday — but he was applauded loudly when he checked out of the game as the Lakers (2-8) avoided the 1-9 start of a year ago.

Bryant and Coach Byron Scott decided during a fourth-quarter timeout that he would finish the game and sit out Monday against Phoenix.

He did not even travel with the Lakers to Arizona. He barely made it out of Staples Center, his knees and back buzzing loudly at him as he stood in the locker room afterward.

“I’m not looking forward to walking to the car,” Bryant said, quickly answering reporters’ laughter after he said it. “Seriously.”

Beyond Bryant was a defense that finally did some damage, holding the Pistons (5-5) to 36.5% shooting.

The new bump on Roy Hibbert’s nose was emblematic of the effort, the byproduct of an impact with Detroit center Andre Drummond.

“I broked it,” Hibbert said jokingly after the news was initially revealed by noted medical expert Nick Young, though the Lakers couldn’t officially confirm it until further testing. For now, Hibbert will wear a mask against Phoenix after totaling 12 points and seven rebounds Sunday.

“I hope you [media] guys know I can pronounce, ‘broken,’” he added.

It was Young, by the way, who wore an *NSYNC T-shirt after the game and kept the metaphor alive by saying, “We’ve got to be in sync, we’ve got to do our dance moves and get the crowd going.”

He really did say it.

Neither D’Angelo Russell (nine points) nor Julius Randle (eight points) had a major impact, but Jordan Clarkson had an efficient 17 points and Young added 13.

The Lakers also avoided an elbow-filled practice later this week.

Scott threatened beforehand to return to old-school box-out drills to improve rebounding.

The Lakers tied Detroit in the department, 46-46, as Drummond had 17 rebounds, two below his average, and 17 points.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go back to the fundamentals of basketball and back to high school type of stuff to kind of get your points across,” Scott said before tipoff.

“It’s not just us. A lot of guys in this league just don’t box out. It’s just one of those fundamental parts of basketball that seems to be lost.”

Why is that?

“Me, personally? AAU,” he said. “I hate AAU basketball, though, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask.”

Not long after Bryant found Hibbert alone down low, he drilled a three-pointer with 3:44 to play, laughing and perhaps relieved as he punched his chest with the Lakers ahead, 85-74. He was five for 18 before hitting the shot.

It made sense that Detroit was a tired team after blowing a 17-point lead in a 101-96 Saturday loss to the Clippers.

It also made sense that Lakers fans forgave Kobe for his misdeeds earlier in the fourth quarter — a missed three-point shot when he had plenty of time and a no-look pass out of bounds intended for Young.

All’s well that ends well for the Lakers, assuming Bryant eventually made it to his car.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.


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