Hitting a tough shot over one of the NBA’s best defenders is a boost to any ego. For Kobe Bryant, it’s a sign he’s getting back to his own personal standard.
Bryant scored 21 points in his sixth game of the season, and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out a four-game road trip with a 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night.
”I know I’m back when those pull-up jumpers start going, especially against a defender like Tony Allen, who is just breathing all over you and is very physical,” Bryant said. ”I felt really comfortable being able to elevate and shoot through contact.”
Pau Gasol added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who were coming off a 114-100 loss at Atlanta on Monday night. Nick Young had 18 points, and Jodie Meeks finished with 13.
Young said having Bryant on the floor makes a big difference.
”Especially when he is getting his groove back like he is,” Young said. ”We’ve just got to feed off each other. We can’t just sit back and watch and let him do everything. We’ve still got to help him out and feed off of him and Pau.”
Zach Randolph had 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds for Memphis, which lost its fourth straight. It also was its first loss when Randolph leads the team in scoring.
The Grizzlies played without Mike Conley, who sat out after bruising his left thigh in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger wasn’t happy that his Grizzlies let the Lakers jump on them from the start.
”That’s a couple games in a row,” Joerger said. ”We cannot come out and wait, especially at home to take a hit. We are letting teams get up by shooting the basketball and getting loose balls. They are getting after us instead of us getting after them.”
The Grizzlies still managed to take a 69-67 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers responded with a 17-4 run.
Bryant played more than 32 minutes, matching his most action since returning from his torn left Achilles’ tendon. He was 9 for 18 from the field, both season highs, despite running the offense most of the night.
”It makes a big difference when he operates well from the post and facilitates for us,” Gasol said.
Randolph gave Memphis its last lead with the first bucket in the fourth. The Lakers then put together their big run, and Young’s 3 made it 84-73 with 7:30 left.
The Grizzlies came back with eight straight, six by Jerryd Bayless. But the rally fizzled from there, and Bryant hit a 3-pointer from 28 feet with 2:39 left to put the Lakers up 91-85.
”Kobe looked great today, Pau was big down the stretch,” said Allen, who had a season-high 16 points.
Bryant, who was 4 of 14 for eight points in the loss in Atlanta, was active right from the start in Memphis. He missed his first two shots and had two quick turnovers. But he hit four of his first eight shots before going to the locker room apparently to help keep warm rather than just chilling on the bench.
”Just try to figure it out what you can do and try to keep it as loose as possible throughout the course of the game,” Bryant said.
Playing for the second straight night, the Lakers still made 11 of their first 16 shots in building a 15-point lead that Memphis managed to whittle down to 34-24 after the first quarter. The Grizzlies used a 12-2 run in the second quarter to close to 43-41, and Bryant and Gasol returned to the floor to push that lead back to 52-47 at halftime.
Bryant went down on the court and was slow to get up with 3:25 left in the third. He spent a couple minutes during a timeout bent over at the waist flexing his left leg before gingerly walking to the bench with trainer Gary Vitti. Bryant returned to the floor after the timeout.
The Grizzlies outscored the Lakers 20-15 in the third to tie it at 67, but they were unable to keep pace with the Lakers in the fourth.
Bayless and Jon Leuer added 13 points apiece for the Grizzlies, who shot 41 percent from the floor, compared to 49 percent for Los Angeles.
NOTES: The 21 points for Bryant matched his season high at Charlotte on Dec. 14. … Memphis lost its 10th at home, more than the Grizzlies lost all last season (nine). … Randolph had his 14th double-double. … Young had his 11th straight game in double figures. … Tayshaun Prince, who had hit just 10 of his last 39 shots over the past six games for Memphis, played only nine minutes, missed his only shot and didn’t play in the second half. … Leuer has scored in double figures in five straight games. … Memphis had a season-high 18 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Lakes 49-37.