L.A. Lakers 117, Boston 109
BOSTON, March 10 (Ticker) --
A surprise start for Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant
meant a predictable end to the six-game winning streak of the Boston Celtics.
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Bryant made an early return from a strained right shoulder and collected 18 points and 10 assists as the Lakers took a 117-109 victory over the Celtics.
Boston came in riding its longest winning streak of the season and hoped to continue its unlikely late-season playoff push against Los Angeles, which figured to be without Bryant.
The six-time All-Star guard re-injured his shoulder Friday and was feared to be out as long as a month. But Bryant did not go on the injured list and maintained he would return sooner rather than later.
"It's not going to be fully healed for the rest of the season," Bryant said. "But if I can go out there and help my teammates and help them get easy shots, I will. I felt that if I could move my shoulder, catch the ball with no problem and pass the ball with no problem and rebound with no problem, then why shouldn't I be playing? I wasn't restricted at all. I still had a full range of motion."
"We were assured that there was no damage that he could do to his shoulder. That's the big key," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It's not like a dislocated shoulder. So that's good news. He's had some time off, so he has some live legs that can help us against the better offensive players that Boston has."
Wearing a protective harness-type shirt under his jersey, Bryant seemed somewhat affected by the injury as he made just 4-of-16 shots. But he was effective enough to play a team-high 40 minutes and get to the line 14 times, making 10.
"I felt OK. I felt all right," Bryant said. "I was ready to play. They trust me, so we went with it. (The doctor) did an excellent job covering the areas where I was sensitive. So if I got hit in any part of it, it wasn't going to affect me."
Bryant's return made things easier on Shaquille O'Neal
, who had a dominant 28 points and 17 rebounds, and Gary Payton
, who scored 20 points. The Lakers took the lead for good in the second quarter and turned back every challenge by the Celtics.
scored 30 points and Ricky Davis
added 24 for the Celtics (29-37), who fell into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, one-half game ahead of Miami.
"We played well tonight against a team not at full strength but a team that has some very good basketball players in Shaq, Kobe and Payton," Celtics coach John Carroll said. "We just never seemed to be able to get enough stops."
In the first half, Boston shot 55 percent (23-of-42) but trailed, 68-60. L.A. played off O'Neal as Payton scored 16 points, Kareem Rush
came off the bench to collect 14 of his 17 and Bryant added 10.
"When you have Shaq in the low post, it makes everybody on their team just a little better," Carroll said. "It makes their perimeter guys hard to guard."
In the third quarter, Davis went in for an uncontested dunk. He tried to put the ball through his legs but lost it off the backboard. He recovered it and still had time to go in for a one-handed windmill slam that cut the deficit to six points.
That was as close as Boston got as O'Neal asserted himself with 20 points in the second half. His free throw gave the Lakers their largest lead, 86-72, with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
O'Neal had 15 points in the final period, including two free throws after the Celtics closed to 105-98 with 3½ minutes to go and a rim-rattling dunk that made it 113-105 with 1:17 left.
"They opened up Shaq late in the game, and when you got such an inside person like that, you have to call for help," Pierce said. "The guys on the perimeter had a great shooting night and they drew us out and worked an inside-outside game. When they do that, it's hard to defend."
In the second of a four-game road trip, L.A. shot 46 percent (39-of-84), made 32-of-48 free throws and held a 50-38 advantage on the glass.