Both the Lakers and Kobe Bryant had been waiting for him to put up a performance like the one he did Tuesday night in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
Despite a broken finger, bruised knee, and an ankle that hurt to maneuver on, Bryant managed to score 39 points on the night, that included seven points in the final five minutes of the game. As a result, the Lakers were able to hold off a charging Oklahoma City team, and go up 2-0 in the series, winning 95-92.
“What did Mark Twain say? Rumors of my demise or whatever,” remarked Lakers head coach Phil Jackson after the game, who had said earlier that Bryant was going to come out strong.
Bryant did not have his best shooting night from the floor, tabbing just 12 of 28 field-goal attempts, but did have a productive night from the charity stripe, making 13 of 15.
“My free throws felt good,” Bryant said in a post-game interview. “I put in a lot, a lot of work over the last month fine-tuning my stroke and trying to get it back to being consistent.”
Jackson said that he wanted Bryant to limit and control his shot taking, as he has made only 30 percent of his field goals over a five game stretch heading into Game 2. That did not appear to be the case, as the 2009 NBA Finals MVP launched 28 attempts.
“After 13 years, you’d think they’d know better,” Bryant said with a smile.
When the Lakers needed him throughout the game, Bryant was able to come up with clutch shots and keep the Lakers from falling behind, and preserving their leads.
“He made the tough shots. He got to the free throw line and that’s what great players do,” said Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.
Durant led the Thunder with 32 points on the night, but struggled a points, as the Lakers defense forced him into making eight turnovers.
The Thunder defense did a solid job on Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the first game of the series, but could not contain Gasol two games in a row. On the night, the Lakers big man racked up 25 points and 12 rebounds, getting the best of the low post on the night.
Oklahoma City played better in the second half, and shut down Bynum, who only had six points for the game.
“That was about as well as we can play and we came up a little short,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks after the game. “Two games in a row we gave the effort defensively. We’re still trying to figure out how to win these close games.”
The series now shifts to Oklahoma City for Game 3 Thursday evening.
“That place is going to be rocking and rolling,” Bryant remarked. “The last time we were there they did a number on us.”
Oklahoma City will look to continue their stout defensive play, and try and limit Bryant’s scoring.
“Our effort was phenomenal, how hard we played on the defensive end,” Durant said in a post-round interview. “A lot of people didn’t even think we could play with these guys.”
Online Sportsbooks favor the Lakers to get past the Thunder and move all the way to the NBA Finals.