LOS ANGELES — If anyone wants evidence that Kobe Bryant is indeed human and not some creation of the basketball gods, just watch the Lakers’ 86-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center on Friday.
Bryant — one of the best clutch players ever — stunningly missed two jumpers in the final 55 seconds of the fourth quarter. That set up Memphis for a pair of game-winning attempts by Mike Conley, who was having a great game with 21 points and six assists. Somehow, though, Conley missed a jump shot with five seconds left and a driving layup at the buzzer — keeping the Lakers in the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Utah beat New Orleans 95-83 but remains a half-game behind Los Angeles. The Jazz — who own the tiebreaker against LA — has five games left, the Lakers six.
The Lakers played just seven players for the second game in a row, and Bryant has played 138 out of a possible 144 minutes in the last three games. He admitted that all the time on the court was starting to take its toll.
Bryant ended the night with a game-leading 24 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds in 43 minutes. He had played 48 and 47 minutes in the last two games.
“Honestly, on that last shot, I was able to muster-up the energy I wanted and get the legs I wanted. I just pulled it a little right.,” Bryant sayd.”
Bryant went on to heap praise on the defense for keying the win, and once again singled out forward Earl Clark, who came off the bench and scored 13 points with five rebounds in 37 minutes, while playing lockdown defense.
“We wouldn’t be winning these games without him,” Bryant said.” But he’s been coming through for us ever since he got his opportunity.”
Clark also had a highlight-reel blocked shot early in the fourth quarter, stopping a shot by Quincy Pondexter, driving it back down into his hand and grabbing it away from the Grizzlies’ forward and keeping it in play as he rolled out of bounds.
“It was definitely a dog fight out there tonight,” Clark said. “But we stayed together, we played defense and rebounded. Whenever we do that, we can beat anybody.”
Which is a blueprint for what the Lakers will have to do Sunday afternoon when they face the Clippers for the final time this regular season.
The Clips have won the first three and will be looking for a sweep of the season series with the Lakers for the first time since 1974-75, when they were the Buffalo Braves. They went 4-0 which was the last time the Lakers lost more than two in a year to the Braves/Clippers—until this season.
“We have to find a way to take away their transition game,” said Bryant. “We can’t let team that are young and fast run on us like they can. We have to play the kind of defense we did tonight, and do it for the whole game. If we do, we should win.”