It’s a line we’ve become all-too accustomed to, but no less fitting – its tough to beat Kobe Bryant in crunch time. Bryant connected on five of his seven shots for 10 of his 22 points in the decisive final quarter, helping LA slide past Portland late. After leading for the entire second half, the Blazers couldn’t hold off Bryant’s Lakers in the final minutes, falling at the Staples Center 84-80 on Sunday night.
The Blazers engineered a 10-0 run to close the first half with a 48-44 lead, and extended the margin to nine early in the third. However Portland mustered just fourteen points in the final quarter, and 21 points in the game’s final 17 minutes. In a play that would prove pivotal, Matt Barnes banked in a last-second, half court heave to end the third quarter, slicing a seven point deficit to four.
In the crucial moments of the contest, the Blazers stumbled consecutive key possessions; conversely, Bryant closed the deal for LA in familiar assassin-like fashion.
With just under five minutes remaining, Bryant split two defenders on an acrobatic reverse layup to trim the lead to two; a play in which Marcus Camby would go down with another leg injury. Out of a timeout, LaMarcus Aldridge responded with a silky step-back jumper to extend Portland’s lead to 76-72. Kobe rifled a precision pass from the top of the key to Pau Gasol for a layup to cut the deficit to two.
Then, after a few misfires were exchanged, Bryant poked the ball away from Andre Miller, setting up an easy dunk that would tie the game with 2:20 to go.
On the next Blazer possession, Nic Batum telegraphed an ill-advised cross court kick-out intended for Rudy Fernandez; Derek Fisher intercepted the pass with ease and took it the distance for an under-hand layup which gave the Lakers their first lead of the second half, 78-76.
A tight Blazer defense, coupled with some loose officiating frustrated the Lakers for much of the game and allowed Portland to maintain a slim margin for the bulk of the second half. But Portland struggled mightily down the stretch to execute and create open looks, and their struggles enabled the Lakers to manufacture a few easy looks of their own. Following a mad scramble for a rebound, Bryant produced yet another transition bucket, sinking a tough one-footed floater to expand the lead to four with under a minute left.
Ron Artest was called for silly technical foul after being rapped up by Gerald Wallace, enabling Portland to slice the deficit to three, but Kobe would imminently render Artest’s folly moot. Bryant drove to the right baseline and nailed a vintage fall away jumper, feistily returning to the Laker bench wearing a defiant scowl.
In an attempt to redeem himself, Nic Batum drained a quick three with just under a half minute left to chop the Laker lead to 82-80. However, as he so often does, Derek Fisher shined in the games most crucial moments, and he eluded an attempted steal and stroked a pure mid-range jumper with 10 seconds left, sealing the victory for LA.
Batum led the way for Portland with 25 points, but had only six in the second half, and committed the costly turnover at a most inopportune time for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points and six rebounds.
In the absence of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom was terrific for the Lakers, with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists on 8-11 shooting. He had two key buckets mid-way through the fourth, stemming the tide until Bryant took over in the final minutes.
About the Author
Written by Brandon Marcus
I am 25 year old native New Yorker. I went to the University of Florida where I got my degree Sports Management. I am a die hard fan of the New York Giants, Knicks, Mets and the movie, Die Hard. I'll be covering the Portland Trail Blazers, but also will keep my eye on the league as a whole, and will drop in from time to time with some random thoughts.