It took Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant 41 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined to will his team to a 118-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night at the Staples Center.
The Raptors appeared to be in firm grasp of the game, leading by as many as 15 and nursing leads for most of the night, but could not stop the effort of Bryant and his win by all means necessary fortitude. In the final 1:41 of the fourth quarter, Bryant hit three 3-pointers to help erase an eight-point deficit and send the game into overtime.
One of those three-pointers was a difficult, arching fadeaway in the corner off an inbounds pass from point guard Steve Nash.
“He hit some tough shots,” said Raptors forward Rudy Gay, who scored 17 points in a losing effort. “He hit a crazy shot. When he’s going like that, it’s tough to guard him. It’s not easy at all. He played smart tonight, and took advantage of our defense.”
In overtime, the Raptors’ three-point lead with 1:25 to play became vulnerable when Nash looked to tie the game with a 3-pointer from 28 feet out. The two-time Most Valuable Player’s shot found the net.
“Like I’ve said, he’s (Nash) probably one of the best shooters in history and he’s playing a little bit off the ball,” said Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni.
After some heady defense on the Raptors on the other end, Bryant glided in for a slam dunk and a 117-115 lead with 10.6 seconds remaining in overtime. On the ensuing possession, Raptors guard-forward Alan Anderson was fouled by Lakers center Dwight Howard, but could only convert one of two free throws.
Up 117-116, Nash was sent to the free throw line following a personal foul on the Raptors. Nash, a career 90 percent free throw shooter, connected on just one of two tries, but it was sufficient for the win.
The Lakers moved to within a half game of the eighth and final playoff spot occupied by the Utah Jazz, who fell to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center earlier in the day. Los Angeles’ 32-31 record marked the first time the team was over .500 after going 6-5 on November 20.
The Lakers were struggling early to stop the Raptors’ one-two combination of Gay and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan, a Los Angeles native, scored 28 points on 12-of-18 from the field.
“I was just trying to get a win,” said DeRozan on playing in his home town. “We could have played in Wyoming. I was just trying to get a win.”
Defensive doldrums have been a thorn in the Lakers’ side for most of the season. They would find themselves having to battle back from double-digit deficits and Friday night was more of the same.
They allowed the Raptors to score 37 points in the first quarter and 59 by halftime. They were down by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, which led to the dogfight into overtime.
“We just got to have a little more intensity coming out the gate, especially defensively,” said Coach D’Antoni. “Defensively, the first five minutes were bad and they score and get into a rhythm, then it’s hard to cut them off.”
Fortunately, Bryant put the team on his shoulders in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. In addition to his 41 points, he dished off 12 assists and had two steals.
However, Bryant also had nine turnovers. Thankfully, his fourth quarter and overtime heroics made up for the lost possessions.
“Man, this was one was tough,” said Bryant. “I mean I was completely irresponsible with the basketball all night long and I just wanted to get in a position where I could somewhat redeem myself.”
Howard added 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Lakers. Nash contributed 22 points, including 4-of-6 from behind the three-point line.
For the Raptors, Anderson added 17 points off the bench. Point guard Kyle Lowry had 15 points and 10 assists in the loss.