Lakers 109, Warriors 104
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Kobe Bryant let his play do the talking, and it spoke volumes.
Bryant bounced back from one of the least productive games of his career to score a season-high 45 points Tuesday night as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied for a 109-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors, keeping their hopes alive for a Pacific Division title.
Bryant was angered by those who questioned his effort two days earlier in a 102-85 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Several local columnists wrote that the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer was sending a message to his coach and teammates by not playing his normal game.
“Kobe was bound and determined to show you guys. … So there!” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said with a chuckle.
The victory was just the second in five games following an 11-game winning streak for the Lakers (55-26) and lifted them into a tie for the division lead with Sacramento.
Since the Kings hold the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1, the Lakers can win the division title only if they win at Portland and the Kings lose at Golden State in the regular-season finales Wednesday night.
The loss was just the fifth in 16 games for the Warriors (36-45), who haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1994.
Bryant shot 14-of-29 and made 17 of 18 free throws in surpassing his previous season-high by one. He scored seven points in the last 20 seconds, and also had seven rebounds and eight assists.
“He came out aggressive and shot the ball. He was Kobe,” teammate Shaquille O’Neal said.
O’Neal had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Slava Medvedenko and Karl Malone added 10 points each for the Lakers, who trailed by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, didn’t lead until the fourth period and barely won despite shooting 53.2 percent.
Clifford Robinson led Golden State with 22 points. Rookie Mickael Pietrus had 20 points to equal his career high along with a career-high four steals. Brian Cardinal also scored 20 for the Warriors, who shot 49.4 percent.
Bryant was criticized by Jackson and several teammates after recent losses to San Antonio and Portland, when he shot a combined 14-of-49.
Bryant tried only one shot in the first half Sunday in Sacramento. He finished 3-of-13 for eight points—his lowest point total in a game in which he played at least 40 minutes.
Speaking on the Lakers’ pre-game radio show Tuesday, Bryant angrily denied he hadn’t done his best, saying the Kings sent two or three players at him as soon as he touched the ball.
“I’ll take full responsibility for us losing the game,” he said. “Sabotaging the game? That’s ridiculous. I don’t go out there and toss games. Are you kidding me? There is no way I would disrespect the game like that.”
He said much the same thing in a brief post-game television interview, but didn’t speak with reporters at his locker, which he almost always does.
The Los Angeles Times quoted an unidentified Laker as saying: “I don’t know how we can forgive him.”
Bryant said he spoke to his teammates at Tuesday’s shootaround.
“Every single one of them said they didn’t say it. They all said no,” he said.
Gary Payton also refused comment afterward, and Malone, who usually talks with reporters as long as they wish after games, spoke only briefly before leaving the locker room.
Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer with 4:55 left—his only points of the game—gave the Lakers a 94-92 lead, and they were on top the rest of the way.
Two baskets by O’Neal made it 100-95 with 2:10 remaining. Pietrus made a follow shot, but Robinson missed a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left that could have tied the game.
The Warriors weren’t closer than three points after that.
Golden State scored the first six points of the third quarter for a 65-49 lead. It was 78-73 entering the final period.
“We played hard, came close,” said Golden State’s Mike Dunleavy, who had 13 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. “We’re playing well against playoff teams. We’re playing well against everybody in the league. Unfortunately, ourseason is going to end tomorrow.”
The Lakers have an 18-2 record at home against the Warriors during the past 10 years. … Warriors F Troy Murphy (bruised right lung) and G Avery Johnson (strained right hamstring) sat out the game and won’t play Wednesday night against the Kings. … Warriors G Speedy Claxton (sore right groin) sat out the second half. … Jackson attended Monday night’s Miss USA Pageant. “I was strictly an escort. I went to support my girlfriend,” he said, referring to Jeanie Buss, whose father, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, was a judge in the contest. Jeanie is the team’s executive vice president of business operations. … Lakers F Rick Fox, who dislocated his right thumb against Memphis last Friday, missed his second game. He hopes to be available when the playoffsbegin.