SALT LAKE CITY — By the end, by the time Kobe Bryant had scored another 40 points and the Lakers had knocked off their beloved Utah Jazz, the people here shouted his name.
He had clubbed them with jump shots and turnarounds and, get this, teammates. He had pulled a tight sleeve up around his tendinitis-stricken right knee, told Phil Jackson, "Yes sir!" when the coach had asked if he could go, then went out and made his first six shots.
He lifted a team, an organization, over 40 more minutes, and at the end he shouted, "Rack 'em up! Rack 'em up!", as the people in the stands filled Delta Center with the words, "Ko-BEE! Ko-BEE!"
The Lakers beat the Jazz, 93-87, Wednesday night, in the second of back-to-back games, with Shaquille O'Neal resting his knee and toe in Beverly Hills, and with Bryant unsure if he'd play, he said, "all the way up 'til game time."
The Lakers are 28-25, still tied with the Houston Rockets for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers and Rockets played two overtimes Tuesday night in Los Angeles, where the Lakers won but feared they had exhausted themselves for the Jazz, which had not played since Monday night and had lost eight home games.
"It was important to win this game," Bryant said. "We lose a game like this tonight and all of our fighting last night was for nothing."
The Lakers stuck to their offense, leaned on their bench players, made 10 three-pointers to the Jazz's two, and beat John Stockton and Karl Malone in their own building, at their own game. The Lakers expect O'Neal back Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers, and while they lost the first of his three games spent resting his various ailments, they won the next two, averting crisis No. 289 in a season so far spent grinding through such moments.
"We knew we were undermanned," Jackson said, and then starting center Samaki Walker rolled his ankle on the opening tip and was lost for the final 3 1/2 quarters.
So, in came Bryant, whose sore knee has turned him into a jump shooter. He scored his 40 points with a single layup and without a dunk. He made 15 of 29 shots, four of six three-pointers, and reached 40 with a free throw with 8.2 seconds remaining. Derek Fisher scored 16 points and Rick Fox scored 11.
But the reserves drove much of a 9-4 fourth-quarter run that gave Bryant and the rest a lead down the stretch.
"I think our guys kind of bought into the thing that he wasn't going to be healthy [enough] to play," Utah Coach Jerry Sloan said.
Mark Madsen scored seven points in 22 minutes. Devean George had six rebounds in 23. Brian Shaw did what he does, filling stats sheets in short minutes. Bryant had gathered them all in a pregame huddle and told them they shouldn't go down easy, shouldn't go down at all, that, "It'll be real easy to lay it down tonight, but we're not going to do that."
"Then," Shaw said, "he got 12 just like that. OK, everything's the way it's supposed to be."
In between the defensive stands and the heavy substitutions, around Madsen's primal scream on a put-back dunk and brief tangle with Greg Ostertag, Bryant continued on one of the great scoring streaks in NBA history.
He has scored at least 40 points for seven consecutive games, the longest for a player not named Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan.
He has scored at least 35 in 11 consecutive games. The list of players with longer streaks than that: Wilt Chamberlain.
Bryant said afterward that he could not fathom his statistical relationship to Chamberlain, to Jordan.
"Nope," he said. "I just go from game to game. All this is done to help us win basketball games."
He smiled a lot, though. It was clear he enjoyed his part in the game, and his rising place in it. He has shot 53.2% from the field and he has found teammates.
Then, in the middle of it all, someone from another town, just some guy wearing an opponent's jersey, yells his name, and grants him the MVP, and this in the place of one of his most famous failures, the airballs from the spring of 1997.
"It was weird," Bryant said. "It kind of messed me up. It felt like the Staples Center."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Kobe Bryant has scored 40 or more points in the last seven games:
*--* Feb Opponent Result Pts 19 at Utah W, 93-87 40 18 vs. Rockets W, 106-99 52 16 vs. Knicks L, 117-110 40 14 vs. Spurs L, 103-95 44 12 at Nuggets W, 113-102 51 11 vs. Nuggets W, 121-93 42 6 at Knicks W, 114-109 46
*--* Analyze This Breaking down the Laker record this season: Overall 28-25 vs. .500 or better 12-17 vs. sub-.500 16-8 In October 0-2 November 6-9 December 7-8 January 8-4 February 7-2 vs. Western Conference 18-14 vs. Eastern Conference 10-11
*--* The Ones to Beat Against teams ahead of them in playoff race: vs. Dallas 1-1 vs. Sacramento 1-1 vs. San Antonio 0-3 vs. Portland 1-1 vs. Minnesota 0-2 vs. Utah 3-1 vs. Phoenix 2-1 vs. Houston 1-2