K.B. Toys with Kings
SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 13 (AP) -- Kobe Bryant
emerged triumphant from a hectic weekend that was more than most 22-year-olds could handle.
In a 48-hour span, Bryant played a phenomenal game, rushed home to Los Angeles to check on his wife's health, then hurried back to Sacramento for another amazing performance that put the Lakers in the conference finals.
| O'Neal is mobbed by fans after going into the stands.|
| NBA.com TV highlights: 28.8+ |
Bryant set career playoff bests with 48 points and 16 rebounds Sunday as the Lakers advanced to their second straight Western Conference finals with a 119-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings, sweeping the best-of-seven series.
When he finally was able to relax, Bryant could only praise the Kings and deflect the praise heaped on him for his poise under pressure from many fronts.
"We needed to be challenged like this," Bryant said. "We needed a gut-check. We needed to go into (the conference finals) feeling like we're playing our best basketball. ... I just wanted to run and push myself to the point of exhaustion."
Bryant, who married Vanessa Laine last month after an engagement that began during last season's playoffs, found out hours before tipoff of Friday's Game 3 that she had been taken to an emergency room with a severe pain in her left side.
After being assured by doctors that his wife's life wasn't in danger, Bryant scored 36 points in the Lakers' victory and rushed home, only to find his wife sleeping off her undisclosed malady. After a relaxing day, Bryant returned to Sacramento and finished his two-game virtuoso performance.
"It wasn't a distraction at all," Bryant said. "It puts things in perspective a little bit more. You understand that this is just a game. The love that I have at home with my wife means so much to me. It's important that she stays in good health. It was a scary situation."
Bryant scored 15 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers, who won their 15th straight game since April 1, weathered a strong effort from the Kings and advanced to face the winner of the San Antonio-Dallas series. The Spurs can advance with a victory at home on Monday.
After record-setting performances in the first two games of the series, Shaquille O'Neal
had 25 points and 10 rebounds. He spent his second straight game in foul trouble under constant pressure from the fired-up Kings, and fouled out with 3:09 left.
No matter: Bryant carried the Lakers' offensive load with ease and flair, blowing on his hot shooting hand during one particularly impressive second-half stretch of jumpers and drives. He had 28 points after halftime.
"It was emotionally draining, but to be able to pull through all of that as a team, it felt so good," Bryant said.
Bryant keyed a fourth-quarter rally that gave Los Angeles a seven-point lead, but the Kings cut it to 108-107 on rookie Hedo Turkoglu's free throws with 1:57 left.
Bryant then hit one of two free throws -- after making his first 13 from the line -- and buried a jumper with 1:21 left. He added three more free throws in the final 35 seconds as the Lakers hung on.
"We had to play from a deficit with ballplayers in foul trouble, but we played well behind them," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who won his 18th straight playoff series.
Los Angeles was just 4-6 in potential clinchers during last season's title run, but the Lakers knocked out Portland and Sacramento on their first tries this season.
The Lakers got 20 points from Derek Fisher
, but they continued to rely on their superstar duo for the bulk of their offense. While O'Neal was limited by a steady stream of defenders and double-teams, Bryant dominated his matchup with Sacramento defensive stopper Doug Christie
"We finally got things going offensively, but Kobe Bryant
was just fantastic," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. "He was possessed. Even when he missed shots, he got them back."
Arco Arena, quiet after the Lakers pushed Sacramento to the brink with a victory in Game 3 two days earlier, was at its deafening loudest as the Kings finally played some semblance of the hot-shooting, slick-passing game at which they excel.
, in what was probably his last game with Sacramento, had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists _ but he went 8-for-25 from the field and had just two points in the fourth quarter.
"I always feel I could play better, and it definitely wasn't enough to win," Webber said. "It's definitely disappointing, but the truth of the matter is the Lakers are a great team. They've got great balance, scoring, defense and everything."
Turkoglu scored 22 points as the Kings' best season in two decades ended with a standing ovation from their grateful fans. Peja Stojakovic, silenced by Rick Fox
the rest of the series, had 26 points, and Vlade Divac
added 18 points and 10 rebounds.
After missing all but one of their 3-pointers in Game 3, the Kings hit six in the first half. Turkoglu, who sparked Sacramento with 10 points in the second quarter, hit a jumper from a step behind the line at the first-half buzzer to give the Kings a 59-53 lead.
In a first-half moment both scary and funny, O'Neal and Bobby Jackson
tumbled out of bounds into a mass of photographers and fans along the Kings' baseline, with O'Neal landing on top of the Kings' point guard. Both players emerged from the pile with a smile. ... Webber's father, Mayce, was in attendance, and he said he hopes his son will return to Sacramento next season. Still, most believe the younger Webber already has decided to leave when he becomes a free agent this summer.