Kobe Bryant took the ball in the post, and there was no chance it was leaving his hands. He stepped back from a pair of defenders and drilled a fadeaway shot in the final moments.
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As if there was any doubt, Bryant made it clear: He’s back to being the closer.
Two days after getting benched late in a home loss to Memphis, Bryant made a pair of jumpers in the final 64 seconds, finishing with 30 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers past the undermanned Golden State Warriors, 104-101 on Tuesday night.
Suddenly, all is right again in Lakerland.
”Why is everybody acting like we’re in eighth place?” Bryant said. ”You guys were kissing the Clippers’ (butts) at the start of the season, and now we’re in the third seed and everybody’s acting like we (stink). I don’t understand it.”
Bryant sealed Los Angeles’ latest victory in furious fashion.
He missed his first two shots in the final quarter before twice rising over a pair of defenders for difficult fall-away jumpers from the corner. The first tied the game and the second put the Lakers ahead by two — and for good — with 32 seconds remaining, giving Los Angeles its third win in four games and putting to rest any doubt about his role in coach Mike Brown’s offense.
”That’s what guys like Kobe can do,” Brown said. ”When you have a special player like that, you put the ball in his hands and ask him to go make a play.”
Former Warriors forward Matt Barnes had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Pau Gasol added 19 points and 17 rebounds to give Los Angeles its third win in four games.
While Brown and Bryant never made a big deal about the benching, a similar situation is started to brew. Center Andrew Bynum, who took a 3-pointer with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock in the third quarter, sat for the game’s final 9:10 — and the two sides are suddenly at odds.
”I don’t know what was bench-worthy about the shot to be honest with you,” said Bynum, who had 11 points and five rebounds. ”I made one (in Sunday’s game). I wanted to make another one. That’s it. He took offense to it, so he put me on the bench.”
Just another day for the Lakers.
David Lee had 23 points and nine rebounds, and rookie Klay Thompson scored 20 points for the Warriors, who overcame a 16-point, first-half deficit only to lose for the seventh time in nine games. Missing three injured starters, Golden State still had to feel good about its effort, tying a franchise low with only five turnovers.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson said he checked his phone at halftime and noticed a text message from former Indiana Pacers teammate Reggie Miller that read, ”What the heck is that lineup?”
”When you look at the starting lineup, if I was a betting man, it’d be safe to say the Lakers would drill us,” Jackson said. ”The bottom line is, at the end of the day, I’ve got a bunch of guys that compete, that get after it, that work extremely hard, that have tremendous character and pride and gave ourselves a chance.”
As usual, it wasn’t as good as Bryant’s finish.
As Los Angeles attempted to make a final push in Sunday’s 102-96 loss to the Grizzlies, Bryant sat on the bench for nearly four minutes, a rare occurrence for one of the NBA’s most dangerous closers. Bryant didn’t appear to agree with the move in the locker room after the game but said he supports Brown’s decision.
Bryant sat out the first 5:21 of the fourth quarter against Golden State, and the home team closed the gap during that time. Brandon Rush brought the Warriors within a basket three times — on a dunk, three-point play and a 3-pointer — and Lee’s 17-footer trimmed Los Angeles’ lead to 91-90 with Bryant back.
The Warriors went ahead 97-95 on Lee’s hook shot before Bryant did what he does best: seal wins.
The Lakers leader took the ball in the post and, as Rush and Thompson swarmed, drifted to the corner and floated a tying shot. Thompson had his layup blocked off his leg and out of bounds by Metta World Peace, setting the stage for another Bryant highlight.
Los Angeles ran the same play again and Bryant delivered, hitting a 19-footer to lift Los Angeles ahead. Rush missed a running layup on the other end, and the Lakers cruised to victory the rest of the way on free throws.
Bryant finished 9 for 24 and added five assists and five rebounds. Most of all, he made sure the Lakers avoided a stunning upset.
Golden State had almost as many players on the injury report as the starting lineup.
Point guard Stephen Curry (sprained right ankle) missed his ninth straight game and, along with new big man Andrew Bogut (fractured left ankle), is unlikely to play again this season. Andris Biedrins (strained right groin) also wasn’t in uniform and Nate Robinson (strained right hamstring) sat out.
The wounded Warriors somehow managed to give the Lakers some competition behind their youngsters.
Three rookies — Thompson, Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler — started, finding ways to keep Golden State close. Los Angeles led 55-48 at halftime and 79-72 entering the fourth, giving themselves a chance at the end — until Bryant took over.
”We had two hands in his face and he still hit two shots,” said Warriors forward Dominic McGuire, who guarded Bryant most of the game. ”That’s Kobe.”
NOTES: Thompson’s dad, Mychal, drafted No. 1 overall by Portland in 1978, is an analyst on the Lakers radio broadcast and called the game courtside. … Golden State hosts New Orleans on Wednesday night, while the Lakers get a day off before hosting Oklahoma City on Thursday night in a pivotal Western Conference matchup.