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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lakers Lose to Rockets in Overtime Despite Kobe's 53 Points

It was the best of times and the worst of times for Kobe Bryant versus the Houston Rockets on Friday night but Houston escaped with a 107-104 overtime victory at the Staples Center. Bryant made 10 of his 19 first half shots, scoring 25 points. Then he went Arctic cold for most of the second half and the Lakers trailed 88-76 with just 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. Just when the Lakers seemed to be dead in the water, Bryant scored 17 of the team's next 19 points; the last three points came when he rebounded Kwame Brown's missed free throw and sank a three pointer falling out of bounds to tie the score at 95. Bryant guarded Tracy McGrady on the Rockets' last possession of regulation, forcing him to fall short on a tough jump shot. Bryant scored the Lakers' first eight points in the extra session and they led 104-100 with 1:03 left after Lamar Odom split a pair of free throws. That is when Bryant's night turned sour. First he was whistled for a foul while McGrady attempted a three pointer. Bryant claimed that Yao Ming pushed him into McGrady. ESPN's Tom Tolbert thought that Bryant exaggerated that contact to try to draw a foul but that it backfired because the call went against him. McGrady made all three free throws, Bryant missed a jumper and the Rockets took a 105-104 lead when Yao scored off of a nice Juwan Howard feed. The Lakers elected not to take a timeout and as Bryant crossed midcourt to presumably attempt the winning shot he was called for travelling. Replays showed that he took a jump stop and then switched his pivot feet, so it was a good call. Rafer Alston concluded the scoring with two free throws and Bryant missed a potentially tying three pointer as time ran out.

Bryant finished with 53 points on 19-44 (.432) field goal shooting (3-9 on three pointers) and 12-14 free throw shooting. Odom shot just 3-9 from the field but contributed 16 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and four steals before fouling out. Yao led the Rockets with 39 points, adding 11 rebounds, and McGrady finished with 30 points, 10 assists and five rebounds but shot just 7-24 from the field. Bryant guarded McGrady often but not exclusively, while Shane Battier guarded Bryant most of the time. Contrary to those who criticize Bryant's defense, he took the challenge of guarding one of the most potent offensive threats in the league and did a pretty good job on him, although the foul in overtime was obviously a big play. Certainly, all of Bryant's "fans" will be quick to say that Bryant "lost" the game there, disregarding the fact that without his 17 points in the last 4:30 of regulation the Lakers would not have even made it into overtime. Where the Lakers really lost the game was in the paint: the Rockets outrebounded the Lakers 56-47 and had no answer for Yao, who shot 17-21 from the free throw line; all three of the Lakers' centers had five fouls each (Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum, Ronny Turiaf) and Odom fouled out. Not all of those fouls came against Yao, of course, but a lot of them did. Bryant's field goal percentage was not great--mainly due to his bad third quarter--but the rest of the team shot even worse. At least Bryant has the capability to heat up, as he showed down the stretch; if those late field goal attempts had been taken by somebody else the game would certainly have been over in regulation.

The 53 points enabled Bryant to etch his name in a couple more spots in the record book. He averaged 40.4 ppg in March, the fourth calendar month in which he has averaged at least 40 ppg (40.6 ppg in February 2003, 43.4 ppg in January 2006 and 41.6 ppg in April 2006--a short, 8 game month, since the regular season concluded before the month ended; I don't recall previously seeing April 2006 included as a 40-ppg month for Bryant, but apparently in this category the Elias Sports Bureau counts all calendar months that have at least five games; the other three months during which Bryant averaged at least 40 ppg comprised 13 or 14 games). Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player to do this multiple times. Elgin Baylor did it once and no one else has ever averaged 40-plus ppg in a calendar month. This was Bryant's 19th career 50 point game, breaking a tie with Baylor. Only Chamberlain (118) and Michael Jordan (31) have more 50 point games.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:42 AM

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