Murray Sparks Cavs to Comeback Victory
Cleveland 96, L.A. Lakers 95
CLEVELAND, March 19 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant and LeBron James staged another classic battle. This time, Flip Murray was the difference.
Murray scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead free throw with 3.4 seconds left, to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers to a come-from-behind 96-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The superstar guard scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting the first half but was just 5-of-18 in the second half. He finished with 38 points, eclipsing his league-leading average of 34.6.
James, the Cavaliers' star swingman who is third in the NBA at 30.8 points, nearly matched that with 29 on 10-of-24 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.
After Bryant's miss, James brought his teammates together in a huddle on the court.
"After a great win like that, you don't want everyone to scatter," James said. "I wanted to get everybody together and let them know that we are all in. I don't get caught up in the (Kobe-LeBron) hype. It's all about the team for me. Winning ballgames is special to me, and that is all I care about."
Ironically, when the teams met Jan. 12 in Los Angeles, James had a chance to win the game but misfired on a 20-footer at the buzzer. In that contest, Bryant hit the go-ahead jumper with 8.6 seconds left.
This loss was painful for Bryant and the Lakers, who led by as many as 18 points and held a 91-80 advantage with under six minutes left.
But Murray, acquired from Seattle just before last month's trading deadline, ignited a 15-0 run for Cleveland with a step-back 3-pointer and a pair of driving layups. His second layup pulled the Cavaliers within 91-90 with 4:04 left.
"There was so much attention on LeBron as they tried to deny him, and to deny (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) down low," Murray said. "It opened up some lanes for me."
Cleveland took its first lead at 92-91 when Ilgauskas tipped in his own miss with 3:15 left. He scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
"We were looking for a boost and he (Murray) did it for us," Ilgauskas said. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be celebrating this win."
James capped the spurt with a 3-pointer from the left side, increasing the advantage to 95-91 with 2:32 remaining.
The Lakers recovered and tied the game as Lamar Odom converted a pair of free throws with 2:10 left and Bryant hit a tough turn-around jumper from the right side over Eric Snow with 1:33 remaining.
James stepped out of bounds on Cleveland's ensuing possession. Bryant, again covered by Snow, missed a fallaway jumper from the right corner with 57 seconds left.
Murray and Odom traded misses before Murray inbounded to Damon Jones, took a return pass and was tripped by Bryant as he drove to the basket with 3.4 seconds left. Murray missed the first free throw but hit the second.
After the a timeout, Bryant launched his shot despite being well-guarded by Snow and 6-10 Anderson Varejao, who ran over to contest after guarding the inbounds pass by Luke Walton. Bryant complained to the officials, looking for a foul call as he walked off the floor.
"Eric Snow's defense on Kobe Bryant in the second half was about as good as you can get," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "We decided to blitz Kobe a little bit on pick-and-rolls."
On Friday, Bryant shot at an airball at the buzzer while being guarded by Vince Carter in a 92-89 loss to New Jersey.
"I'm always going to look to be aggressive and take those shots, but we let this one get away because we lacked defensive intensity in the fourth quarter," Bryant said.
"I saw Kobe cut to the ball, so I threw it to him," Walton said. "We blew another one. Same as the New Jersey game. We've got to find a way to win these games or we're going to be done April 19."
The Lakers have dropped four of their last five to slip back to .500 (34-34) for the first time since March 1.
Odom nearly recorded a triple-double with 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Bryant scored 11 points in the first quarter when the Lakers built a 30-18 lead. Los Angeles was an astounding 21-of-27 from the floor when it held a 47-29 lead with 7:44 left in the second quarter.
After the Cavaliers pulled within 60-49 on a basket by James, Bryant hit a fallaway 3-pointer from the left sideline with James in his face at the halftime buzzer.
Cleveland started the third quarter with a 16-5 run as James and Ilgauskas combined for 12 points.
Bryant scored his only basket of the third quarter with 4:52 left to ignite a 13-4 spurt which helped the Lakers open the lead to 81-69.