Bryant Outduels James As Lakers Nip Cavaliers
L.A. Lakers 99, Cleveland 98
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 12 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant went eyeball to eyeball with LeBron James and made the younger player blink at crunch time.
Bryant scored 27 points and sank three consecutive shots in the waning moments to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their fourth win in five games, a 99-98 triumph over James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"I told my teammates before the game tonight to pick up the slack," Bryant said. "My hand was bothering me so it was tough for me to shoot the ball. You just have to accept it and be mature about it and not try to force things."
"You have to take your hat off to Kobe," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "Kobe hit some tough shots. We double-teamed him and I thought we were there and contesting the shots on the four jumpers he hit. Down the stretch, he won the game for them."
With the game tied, 93-93, Bryant put the Lakers in front when he hit an 18-foot jumper over James with 1:30 remaining. Zydrunas Ilgauskas answered with a layup for Cleveland with 1:09 to go.
Bryant, who made 9-of-21 shots, nailed another jumper from the left side with 50 seconds left, giving the Lakers a 97-95 edge.
"He really hit tough shots," Ilgauskas added. "The last couple of shots were really tough. But that's Kobe. That's what he does."
On the Cavaliers' next possession, Drew Gooden made a tough bank shot to tie the score with 31 seconds to play.
The Lakers ran down the shot clock and Bryant sank a jumper over James with 8.6 seconds to play for a 99-97 advantage. On the next play, Bryant fouled James with 5.2 seconds to go.
"I learned a lot about LeBron tonight," Bryant said. "He took on the challenge of playing both ends of the floor and I can relate to that. And he took on the challenge of guarding me."
Struggling from the line all game, James made the first free throw but missed the second. But Gooden grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 4.2 seconds left.
The Cavaliers again went to James, who took the inbounds pass above the arc and used a dribble to get past Bryant for a jumper from the left elbow, that hit the back rim as time expired.
"We knew that on that play, we were going to win or lose the game," James said. "And we knew I was going to get the last shot. I got to my patented move. That was the best shot we could get at the point and the shot felt great. I didn't hesitate. The ball was short and we lost."
"It was a close game," Ilgauskas said. "They made the plays down the stretch. We had a good look an LeBron's shot but it just didn't go in. Nine times out of ten, LeBron makes that shot."
Lamar Odom just missed a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Chris Mihm scored 15 points and Smush Parker added 12 for the Lakers, who shot nearly 51 percent (39-of-77) from the floor.
"There are going to be nights like this for me," Odom said. "Kobe took on the challenge of guarding LeBron James and everyone played team defense. The win is what matters most."
James scored 28 points, making 11-of-22 shots and 4-of-9 free throws while adding nine assists. However, his streak of seven consecutive 30-point games ended.
"It was awesome going against one of the best players in this league," James said. "He (Bryant) put his team on his back and I tried to do the same. His last three shots were just amazing. The guy was shooting the shots like he was the only person in the arena. Being down one or two points is nothing to him."
Ilgauskas made 11-of-15 shots and tied a season high with 29 points. Gooden added 15 with 11 rebounds for Cleveland, which lost its seventh straight road meeting with the Lakers.
The Cavaliers shot 54 percent (39-of-72) but missed nine free throws in the opener of a six-game road trip.
"We ended up with nine turnovers in the second half and they scored 14 points off our nine turnovers, which is something we can't do if we want to win on the road," Brown said.