In case anybody was wondering, Kobe Bryant can still take over a game.
If there were still questions about his injuries and ineptitude over the last few weeks, Bryant wanted to answer a few of them. On a night where his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant was in attendance, a rarity but a reality, Bryant scored 39 points and the Lakers pushed themselves away from the Oklahoma City Thunder, 95-92, in Game 2 of their first-round series Tuesday at Staples Center.
It wasn't easy, the game coming down to Jeff Green's missed three-point attempt at the buzzer, but the Lakers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Games 3 and 4 are in Oklahoma City, where it will be loud. Very loud.
The Lakers, however, took another tight one from the Thunder, Bryant making 12 of 28 shots and 13 of 15 free-throw attempts, just enough to move age and experience past youth and innocence.
The Lakers were worried about this one from the start. Bryant and Derek Fisher even brought up the importance of taking Game 2 seriously after watching Cleveland struggle in its second game against Chicago and higher-seeded Denver lose to short-handed Utah. "The captains of my team expressed that message," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. It almost didn't help.
Bryant had 15 points in the fourth quarter, seven from the free-throw line. Pau Gasol was the only other Lakers player in double-digit scoring, finishing with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
The Lakers could have made things a little easier in the end, but Bryant and Gasol each missed one of two free-throw attempts in the final 15.1 seconds, allowing the Thunder to stay within striking range.
Only when Green's three-point attempt bounced away could Lakers fans exhale.
Oklahoma City was all over the Lakers defensively, amassing an amazing 17 blocked shots and breaking a Lakers' opponent playoff record of 14 originally set by Utah in May 1988.
Ron Artest missed eight of 10 shots and Lamar Odom missed seven of nine shots.
Kevin Durant had 32 points and Russell Westbrook had 19 to lead the Thunder.
The Lakers led after three quarters, 73-69, but the loudest roar up to that point came when Craig Calloway, a 29-year-old from Compton, won $235,000 by making a halfcourt shot before the fourth quarter in a promotion sponsored by The Mirage hotel. Getting the ball inside was part of the Lakers' game plan after they went over video from Game 1.
"I wasn't happy with our inability to get the ball inside," Jackson said before Game 2. "A lot of it has to do with Kobe back on the floor and the amount of attention that he gets from some of our guys and they want to get him the ball instead of really seeing that, 'Hey the post is open, we've got to pass in there.' They see where Kobe is a lot of times. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the most grease. That's the truth."
Gasol made eight of 14 shots, but Andrew Bynum had only six shots going into the fourth quarter. When he got the opportunities in the fourth, he didn't take advantage, finishing with six points on three-for-nine shooting.
The Lakers were again askew in a weird way, a strange sequence near the end of the third quarter summing it all up. Bryant missed a wide-open three-point attempt, Gasol got the rebound and threw it back tonobody, really. The ball bounced all the way into the other end, where Thabo Sefolosha scooped it up, was fouled and went to the free-throw line.
The Lakers got the victory, however. Neither they nor Bryant are done yet.