Lakers guard Kobe Bryant pulls up for a jumper over Portland guard Wesley… (Steve Dipaola / Reuters )
Reporting from Porltand, Ore.
It was such a strange emotion, so unexpected, that it took a second to register the significance of it.
The Lakers were actually smiling as they walked off the court at the Rose Garden.
It was bizarre for sure, the Lakers overcoming the Portland Trail Blazers in overtime, 106-101, a stunning victory Wednesday against the team that always has their number up here, year after year, rain, sleet or snow.
The Lakers somehow forced overtime after trailing by seven with 1:30 left in regulation.
It made no sense, really, Ron Artest scoring a season-high 24 points, including an out-of-nowhere, step-back three-pointer that rallied the Lakers in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter.
It looked like there was no chance of a victory, the Lakers playing old and creaky basketball for almost four quarters.
And yet, raucous Trail Blazers fans left in an irritated mood, the game swiped from under their black-and-red gear and in front of their handmade signs that said, "At least we beat Cleveland."
Kobe Bryant came alive after a six-for-19 start, finishing with 37 points and a fadeaway 15-footer that rolled around the rim and through with 4.7 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
The Lakers then made five of eight shots in overtime and all seven of their free throws, their comeback summed up when Artest grabbed an offensive rebound and Bryant buried a nine-footer with 27.9 seconds left. LaMarcus Aldridge missed two free-throw attempts with 19.4 seconds left and Bryant made two at the other end to effectively end the game.
Biggest victory of the season?
"Yeah, I think so," Bryant said. "It was the toughest one for sure."
It was a firm victory on all accounts, in a place where the Lakers (40-19) had lost nine of their last 10. They also hit the mark that Coach Phil Jackson uses to determine the strength of his teams, getting 40 victories before 20 losses.
It started with Artest, who made eight of 13 shots and added six rebounds and four assists. He made five of six from three-point range, one shy of his career-high.
"That's one of the better games he's played," Jackson said.
Jackson receives some credit as well.
As players trickled back in from Mexico, the Caribbean and other destinations after the All-Star break, Jackson looked at each of them and told them he believed in them at Monday's practice.
A day later, they beat Atlanta by 24. On Wednesday, they won in Portland.
A master psychologist? Whatever works.
Bryant appealed to Pau Gasol late in the game, telling him it was time to go to work.
Gasol had five points in overtime and finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
"He did fantastic," Bryant said. "I said, 'Pau, we need you to take this game over right now. This is what you're here for. It's me and you. Bring us home.' He did that."
Gasol also helped hold Aldridge scoreless in the fourth quarter and overtime after the Trail Blazers' power forward blistered the Lakers for 29 points through three quarters.
Don't look now, but the Lakers have taken two in a row here after winning at the Rose Garden last February, 99-82.
"This is one of those places where it's really tough to get a win, especially on back-to-back games, so it adds value to it," Gasol said.