LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reverse dunks over Grant Hill #33 and Marcin Gortat #4 of the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on January 10, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 99-83. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant: Still pretty good at basketball. He scored 48 points to lead the L.A. Lakers past the Phoenix Suns Tuesday.
There are nights when Kobe Bryant's tendency to call his own number elicits griping from Lakers fans and the general public, and then there are nights when we all remember that we should all just shut up and watch the man work. Tuesday's outing against the Suns fell in that latter category, as Kobe dipped, ducked and danced his way to 48 points on 31 shots to lead the Lakers to a 16-2 fourth quarter run and a 99-83 win.
Grant Hill, still a capable defender in his twilight, had an absolutely nightmarish evening against Kobe, shuffling those feet and getting hands in Kobe's face to no avail whatsoever. Bryant terrorized Hill from mid-range, from close-range, and right at the rim, even cramming a reverse alley-oop during the game's closing run. Kobe recorded his fifth-straight 25-plus point outing whilst admiring folks everywhere started growing goatees, shooting their wrists up with painkillers, and pricing tickets to Germany. Incidentally, it could have been an even 50, but Bryant and the Lakers opted not to run up the score on their final possession. 'Twas a sportsmanlike gesture to the Suns, but a slap in the face to the obsessive-compulsive among us.
And while Bryant produced nearly half of the Lakers' points, he got some quiet help from his teammates. The Lakers, short-handed with Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy ailing and Jason Kapono tending to the birth of twins, (congratulations, Jason and company!) played some small lineups and leaned pretty hard on Luke Walton off the bench. Walton produced, grabbing five of L.A.'s 14 offensive rebounds, scoring six points, and generating some vociferous, minimally sarcastic "LUUUUKE" chants from the Staples Center crowd. The Lakers moved the ball, too, getting a cool 27 assists on 39 field goals, including seven from Matt Barnes(!) and eight off the bench from Steve Blake. Pau Gasol was the only other Laker to offer a significant scoring boost with 16 points, while Devin Ebanks had the undisputed offensive play of the game.
Note that Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher aren't mentioned above, and that's because both played season-low minutes after getting thoroughly carved up by repeated one-five pick-and-rolls. Steve Nash lost Fisher repeatedly off Marcin Gortat screens, drawing Bynum into neutral space and creating baskets for himself, Gortat, and various Phoenix shooters. That attack put Phoenix ahead by nine early, and the Suns stayed involved well into the fourth quarter, with former Laker Shannon Brown piloting a mini-run to repeatedly cut the deficit to one. But then Kobe happened, the Lakers pulled away, and the game was decided well before the buzzer.
The Lakers' win marks their third straight and moves them to 7-4 on the season, while the Suns fell to 4-5.