Kobe Bryant needed just a few minutes to thwart an Oklahoma City rally and put the Los Angeles Lakers on the way to improving the NBA’s best record.
It took quite a bit longer to shake off the effects of the ankle injury he suffered in the process.
Bryant scored 10 of his 36 points in a 3-minute span of the fourth quarter to stave off the Thunder’s comeback bid and lead the Lakers to a 107-93 victory on Tuesday night. He didn’t emerge from the Lakers’ training room until about 40 minutes after the game, but he was in a good mood when he did.
“It was my ankle, but I’ve got ankle insurance,” Bryant said with a smile. “I’m fine.”
Bryant moved into 19th place on the NBA’s career scoring list, ahead of Adrian Dantley only one game after he passed Elgin Baylor for 20th. Entering the game, he had needed only 13 points to tie Dantley.
He got to that point with the first of back-to-back jumpers that pushed the lead back to 18 with 7:05 left in the third quarter after Oklahoma City had gotten within 10. The Thunder still had one last charge in them, closing within one before Bryant returned from the bench and took over.
Coach Phil Jackson said he had to turn away Bryant once before he finally let his star check back in with 9:17 to play and the Thunder within two. Bryant said the thoughts that were running through his head were not pleasant ones.
“If I don’t check in within the next 2 minutes, I’m just not going to sleep very well tonight,” Bryant said. “It’s about time for me to go in and do what they ask me to do.”
He had 15 points in the fourth quarter after the Thunder were threatening, allowing the Lakers to improve to 47-10 on the season and 21-6 on the road.
Kevin Durant scored 32 to lead Oklahoma City in its sixth straight loss. It was his ninth time scoring at least 30 points in the last 10 games, and the 13th time in 17 games, during a surge that’s landed him right behind Bryant in fourth place in the NBA in scoring.
Rookie Kyle Weaver followed his career-best 19-point outing by scoring 16, and Russell Westbrook finished with 14 points for the Thunder.
“A guy like Kobe Bryant, he’s a great player,” Durant said. “He makes those shots. We forced him into some of those tough ones, but that’s the kind of player he is.”
Pau Gasol added 14 points, Derek Fisher scored 12 and Luke Walton had 11 for Los Angeles. After averaging 16 rebounds over the last seven games, Lamar Odom had only eight points and eight rebounds.
But Bryant had plenty of production, especially down the stretch.
He hit a jumper immediately after checking back into the game, then scored six points in a row to respond to Jeff Green’s three-point play that cut the deficit to 81-80. He used a series of hesitation moves and pump fakes to draw two fouls from Weaver, then backed his way in against the rookie for a layup that made it 87-80.
The Lakers’ lead eventually ballooned to 104-89 on Walton’s layup, and that allowed Bryant to exit with 1:26 to play. He had stayed in the game despite clutching his right ankle when he landed awkwardly after getting fouled on a layup attempt under the basket with about 4 minutes left.
Odom was disappointed in how Los Angeles squandered the big lead and said it “wasn’t a wholehearted effort at all defensively for us.”
“We’re pushing for perfection. We can play better than what we played tonight,” Odom said.
After Westbrook opened the game with a reverse layup, Bryant set up Walton for a 3-pointer and the Lakers scored the next 10 points to build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Bryant pushed the advantage to 21-9 with a twisting, right-handed jam in transition, and Los Angeles was even able to continue pulling away while the reigning MVP was resting on the bench.
A lineup featuring four reserves put together a 10-0 run, and Jordan Farmar’s free throw gave the Lakers a 47-29 lead.
The Thunder’s comeback kicked into high gear after Walton was called for a flagrant foul for taking down Westbrook on a fast break with 5:06 left in the third quarter and Oklahoma City down by 16.
Durant’s 3-pointer concluded a 15-6 finish to the third quarter by the Thunder, who then scored the first six points of the final period to get within 75-74 on Nick Collison’s left-handed layup.
Thabo Sefolosha, acquired from Chicago in a deadline day trade last week, took over Weaver’s starting spot in only his second game with the Thunder and drew the assignment of guarding Bryant much of the game. But it was an assortment of players—including Weaver, Durant and Green—that tried without success to stop him in the fourth quarter.