Kobe Bryant gave Goran Dragic a quick hug after Houston’s pesky point guard led the Rockets past the Lakers on Wednesday night.
Dragic hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28 seconds left and finished with 16 points and 13 assists in Houston’s 107-104 comeback victory.
Down by nine with 5 minutes left, the Rockets had a 12-0 run to take the lead. Dragic scored 10 points in the final quarter, putting the Rockets ahead for good with his second 3 of the game.
Houston held on and Bryant made a point to meet Dragic at midcourt after the final buzzer.
”He just said, `Good game, I wish you luck,”’ Dragic said. ”Nothing special.”
Bryant remembers when the Lakers struggled to guard Dragic when he backed up Steve Nash with Phoenix.
”A lot of times when we played them in the playoffs, in the Western Conference finals, when he came off the bench, that’s the unit that really gave us the biggest headache,” Bryant said. ”He’s really developed into a hell of a basketball player.”
Luis Scola and Courtney Lee scored 23 points apiece for the Rockets. Bryant had 29 points, and Pau Gasol added 21 for the Lakers.
Bryant, coming off a 3-for-20 shooting night Sunday, went 10 for 27 with two 3-pointers against Houston. He shed the protective mask that he’d been wearing since Dwyane Wade broke his nose in the All-Star game and says he doesn’t plan to wear it again.
”I might donate it, see if anybody’s dumb enough to buy that sweaty mask,” he said.
The Lakers had 15 turnovers and were outrebounded 40-31.
L.A. missed five straight shots during the Rockets’ late spurt before Bryant sank a fadeaway with 1:28 remaining to cut the gap to 100-99. Patrick Patterson split two free throws before Bryant tied it with a long jumper over 6-foot-9 rookie Chandler Parsons, who guarded him much of the night.
”I have a couple of inches on him, so I just tried to make everything tough for him,” Parsons said. ”But he still made some ridiculous shots.”
After Dragic answered with his 3-pointer from the corner, Bryant missed a straight-on 3-pointer off the back of the rim. Parsons rebounded and Lee’s free throws with 10.6 seconds left put the game out of reach.
The Lakers have allowed more than 100 points in four of their last five games.
”I’m concerned,” Bryant said, ”but I’m confident we’ll get it (the defense) fixed. We’ve responded to challenges all year, and in a way, it’s good to go through something like this.”
Gasol and Andrew Bynum made 10 of 14 shots in the first quarter and the Lakers built a 40-25 lead.
Bryant started 3 for 5 on Wednesday. He drove into the lane late in the quarter, wrapped the ball around his back and hit a left-handed shot in the lane, part of a 20-7 Lakers’ spurt.
”That’s like something you see in a video game,” Parsons said.
The Rockets played stingier defense in the second quarter, and the Lakers cooled off, going 6 for 18 from the field. Houston finished the half with a 12-6 spurt to trail only 56-51 at the break.
Bynum was ejected late in the third quarter after picking up his second technical foul for mouthing off to referee Monty McCutchen. Bynum scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds before departing. He did not speak to reporters after the game.
”One of his big strengths is the chip on his shoulder that he plays with,” Bryant said. ”You can’t expect him to have that one night and then knock him for it the next. I like that chip that he plays with.”
Notes: The Lakers’ 40-point first quarter was a season high. … Rockets G Kevin Martin (strained right shoulder) sat out for the fifth straight game, and Houston coach Kevin McHale did not know when the team’s leading scorer might be ready to return. … Yao Ming had a courtside seat, the first Rockets game he’s watched since retiring from basketball last summer. The 7-foot-6 center’s career was cut short by injuries, mostly to his left foot. He says he’s healthy now, ”good enough for walking, but not good enough for playing basketball.” Yao seemed content on Wednesday night and had no regrets that he and Tracy McGrady could never deliver a championship. ”We had this chance before, and we missed it,” Yao said. ”There’s no `if.’ We just need to face ourselves, and say we did our best and walk away.” Former Rocket and Laker Robert Horry watched the game with Yao.