LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant displayed his customary late-game heroics and newfound trust in his teammates to help the Los Angeles Lakers beat the visiting Boston Celtics 97-94 on Sunday.
In a fourth quarter slugfest that featured 11 lead changes, Bryant made a pull-up that put the home team ahead 95-94 with 42 seconds, then allowed Andrew Bynum to deliver the final basket as the Lakers scored the last eight points to triumph against their long-time NBA rivals.
Bryant finished with 26 points and seven assists for Los Angeles (25-16). Andrew Bynum co-starred with 20 points and 14 rebounds while seizing his team’s final possession during the critical final seconds that normally belong to Bryant.
“Today was just another example of (Kobe) trusting Andrew,” Lakers veteran guard Derek Fisher said.
“It’s a part of the continued evolution in terms of him doing different things to get us over the top.”
The Lakers needed everyone’s contribution to escape the Celtics who had two last gasp three-point attempts from Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo fail before the clock expired
Rondo had 24 points and 10 assists for Boston (21-19) who trailed by 15 in the second quarter but rallied and held a 94-89 advantage with under three minutes remaining.
That is when Bryant went to work. The five-time NBA champion made a fade-away jumper, then set up Bynum with a lob pass before striking again with the go-ahead shot.
“The problem was we couldn’t get any stops. Kobe made some tough shots,” said Boston forward Paul Pierce.
“I thought we had some great looks. It was one of those games that could have gone either way.”
Boston, in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, had won six of their previous seven games heading into the contest but they seemingly lost their form in the early going and shot just 25 percent from the floor during a cold first quarter.
The visitors ended the first half with a 20-7 run to claw back into the contest.
Ray Allen had 17 points and Brandon Bass added 15 for the Celtics who did not take their first lead of the game until the third quarter.
Metta World Peace was the Lakers’ spark plug during an intense third period where he scored 10 of his 14 points.
World Peace made consecutive three-pointers and mixed it up with Pierce during a minor tussle under the basket that fired up the Staples Center crowd just as the momentum was starting to swing toward Boston.