For the first time this season, the crowd’s reaction to the Lakers’ player introductions at Staples Center did not reach its normal feverish climax when Kobe Bryant steps on the court.
Bryant was not in the house Tuesday night.
But even as a fatigued Bryant was rested, the sold-out crowd of 18,997 still had reason to roar as Bryant’s teammates defeated the high-flying Golden State Warriors, 115-105.
The Lakers led by 15 points at halftime, by 22 points at the end of the third quarter and simply outplayed league-leading Golden State through most of the game.
A three-point basket by the Warriors’ Justin Holiday cut the Lakers’ lead to eight points with 55 seconds left, but the Lakers’ Jeremy Lin promptly answered with a three-pointer of his own to seal the win.
Carlos Boozer, who lost his starting job several games ago as the Lakers’ losses piled up, led his club Tuesday night with 18 points and nine rebounds, both team-highs on a night the Lakers’ reserves combined for 54 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists. Ronnie Price, with 17 points, was the highest-scoring starter.
“That’s exactly what we needed,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “It probably was our best game so far this year.
“We’re still going to lean on [Bryant] but we don’t have to as heavy as we are, that’s kind of the message. You’ve got to let these [other] guys either succeed or fail.”
The Lakers’ record improved to 9-19 while the Warriors’ fell to 23-4, still the best in the NBA.
With Bryant tired and struggling, and the Lakers playing upcoming games against the Bulls in Chicago on Christmas and then the Mavericks in Dallas the next day, Scott decided to rest Bryant.
Bryant is averaging a team-high 24.6 points a game but shooting a career-low 37.2% from the field.
“You can’t replace a guy like Kobe, obviously, but I thought collectively we did a great job of helping each other out on both sides of the ball,” Boozer said. “We just played with such energy, hopefully we can take that on the road up to Chicago for Christmas, and on to Dallas, too.”
Scott said before the game that the goal was “just really trying to preserve him as much as possible so he can play at a high level.”
“I didn’t get much of a fuss” from Bryant, Scott said. “He had told me last night, anyway, ‘Coach, whatever you want to do, just let me know.’ So he’s on board with it.”
Scott was asked if Bryant also might sit out one of the two upcoming road games. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Scott said. “We’re just taking this game by game, day by day.”
Reserve guard Wayne Ellington made his first start of the season in place of Bryant, and he scored 12 points, including two three-point baskets.
The victory snapped a three-game Lakers losing streak and their four-game losing streak against Golden State — including two losses earlier this season — which was the Lakers’ longest winless streak against the Warriors in 20 years.
The Lakers shot 51.7% from the field while Golden State shot 46.4%.
The Lakers also kept in check the Warriors’ backcourt stars, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who led Golden State with 22 points and 18 points, respectively.
“It was a great team effort,” Price said. “We all feel like we haven’t been playing up to our standards. We were getting stops. That was key. We weren’t just exchanging baskets.”
Now the Lakers, Bryant included, head to Chicago for Thursday’s game against the Bulls.
Said Scott: “I told Kobe to meet us at the plane tomorrow morning.”
Follow Jim Peltz on Twitter @PeltzLATimes