Apr 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts after making a three-point basket against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. The Lakers defeated the Warriors 112-120. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
Kobe Bryant whipped up some late-game heroics as the Los Angeles Lakers (33-20) held off Deron Williams and the New Jersey Nets (19-35) on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The two early storylines from Los Angeles Lakers' 91-87 win over the New Jersey Nets involved a pair of players who didn't suit up in Laker uniforms for the game, Andrew Bynum and Gerald Green. The Lakers' mercurial starting center sat out due to an ankle injury with rumors of insubordination and team-imposed fines swirling around him, while 26-year-old swingman Gerald Green -- whom the Lakers cut in preseason and the Nets signed from LA's D-League affiliate back in February -- put on an impressive offensive showcase in a 13-point and six-rebound first half that left Lakers fans wondering how the team let such an athletic and affordable sharp-shooter slip away. Kobe Bryant kindly allowed these tangential distractions to linger until the final seconds, when he reclaimed the attention and adoration of the Staples Center crowd in no uncertain terms.
Despite the early mentions, neither Bynum nor Green really mattered with regards to the outcome. The Lakers capitalized on lapses and weaknesses in the Nets' league-worst defense to build a 17-point margin in the third quarter, shot 48.1 percent from the field and never trailed at any point. The Nets played well in spots during the second half and seriously nipped at LA's advantage down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to get the win.
The crowd apparently included a lot of Kim Kardashian supporters, because Nets forward Kris Humphries heard a chorus of boos every time he entered the game. Hump even let his frustration boil over when he instigated a small kerfuffle with Pau Gasol, but on the night he showed up the Kardashian faithful with an impactful 18-point, 15-rebound double-double that transformed those jeers into nothing more than discordant background noise. He teamed up with Deron Williams (20 points, six assists) and Gerald Wallace (19 points, five assists) to prop up the New Jersey attack and provide fuel for some late drama.
Ramon Sessions played very nice game, but he front-loaded his production into the first half, which turned out to be a theme for the Lakers. The new starting point guard knifed into the lane and tied his season-high in assists with 11 while also added 19 points on 7-15 shooting, but eight of those assists and 12 of those points came before intermission. Pau Gasol did the same thing. His 22 points and 12 rebounds and four assists look great, but his 2-7 shooting for four points in the second half contributed to the poor efficiency (32.6 percent FGs, 4-14 3PTs, only one free throw attempt as a team) in the final two periods. In other words, the Lakers did just enough wrong to let the Nets back into the game.
The most impressive and impactful performance from anyone on the court came from Kobe, who scored a game-high 24 points on 10-16 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and distributed three assists. He picked his spots very well and played within the natural flow of the offense until the final few minutes. An anemic second-half offense caused the Lakers' large lead to shrivel right before closing time, but Bryant seized control in the nick of time.
First he drained a gutsy turnaround fade-away attempt over a double team to give LA a late two-point lead in response to Deron William's big three-pointer. Then, after a loose ball review decided in the Lakers' favor gave LA the ball with 10.8 seconds left and 2.3 second on shot clock,
everybody forgot to guard Kobe he somehow escaped the defensive coverage of the Nets on the ensuing in-bounds play and launched a 28-foot three that dramatically danced a hokey-pokey between the front and back rim before it finally found the bottom of the net for the decisive closing blow. Here's what the latest pillar in the vast mythology of clutch Kobe moments looked like, in glorious .GIF form (via @jose3030).
For all of Tuesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.