Vintage Kobe Bryant leads Los Angeles Lakers over Denver Nuggets

By Michael Kelly, The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 23, 2015 at 11:43 AM
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DENVER -- Kobe Bryant's vintage performance Tuesday night showed he can dominate a game on both ends of the floor.

Bryant scored 11 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter and played shutdown defense in the second half, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 111-107.

Bryant tied his season high and helped the Lakers (5-23) win for just the second time in 10 games. He played for the first time in five games after missing Saturday's 40-point loss at Oklahoma City with a sore right shoulder.

Bryant, who logged 32 minutes, didn't practice since his last game said his shoulder was sore after Tuesday's win but he otherwise felt fine.

"I didn't do anything," he said. "I rested completely. My shoulder was a little too sore to be moving around."

His offensive numbers were nearly overshadowed by his defense. Bryant took on hot-shooting guard Will Barton and held him to two points in the second half to help the Lakers overcome a double-digit deficit.

"It was a great test for me tonight to see if I could play both ends of the floor," Bryant said. "I felt like I could do one, I didn't know if I could do them both. It felt good to be able to do that."

Guard Jordan Clarkson scored 19 points and guard Lou Williams had 17 points and for Los Angeles.

Bryant, who will retire after the season, received a warm reception from the Pepsi Center crowd and tried to give the fans a show early in his penultimate visit to Denver. In the first quarter he converted a four-point play when he was fouled on a 3-pointer and hit the free throw, drawing loud cheers.

The cheering continued throughout the night whenever he hit one of his 10 field goals and nine free throws.

As the Lakers closed out the win from the line the fans chanted, "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!"

"There was a lot of energy in the place," Bryant said. "It felt great to have that appreciation."

Barton scored 25 points, guard Gary Harris tied a career high with 21, and center Nikola Jokic had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Denver (11-17). The Nuggets have lost two straight at home to teams with a combined record of 11-42.

"Defensively, we weren't there at all," said Denver guard Jameer Nelson, who briefly left the game due to illness. "They got pretty much whatever they wanted."

Los Angeles trailed by 13 at intermission but outscored the Nuggets 32-16 in the third to take an 83-80 lead. Bryant had seven points and four assists during the quarter to lead the comeback.

He also took the lead on defense when Barton re-entered the game with 7:27 left in the third.

"Barton was tearing us up in the first half," Lakers coach Byron Scott said. "I asked Kobe if he wanted to guard him and he said, 'I got him.' He had two points after that."

Barton, who finished with eight rebounds, was just 1-for-5 in the second half.

"I can still play a little bit," Bryant said.

The game was close in the fourth, but Bryant hit a jumper with 6:13 left, and his three free throws with 3:48 to go extended the lead to 101-95.

Harris had a fastbreak dunk and a 3-pointer to get Denver within 103-100.

Bryant hit two free throws and a turnaround jumper with 32.2 seconds left to make it 107-100.

The Nuggets got a scare when Harris left with a right knee strain 3:40 into the game, but he returned and played 35 minutes. Barton came on and scored 18 points in the first quarter. He made his first four shots, hit two 3-pointers and converted a four-point play as Denver built a 21-point lead in the first half.

NOTES: Nuggets F Danilo Gallinari (sprained left ankle) joined G Emmanuel Mudiay (sprained right ankle) on the sideline. Gallinari sustained the injury Sunday in the third quarter of a loss to New Orleans. Mudiay missed his fifth game Tuesday. ... Lakers coach Byron Scott said he planned to monitor G Kobe Bryant's minutes because of a sore right shoulder that kept Bryant out of the previous game. ... Nuggets F Darrell Arthur played despite leaving Sunday's game with right knee soreness. ... The Lakers spent a couple of off days in Denver after playing in Oklahoma City on Saturday night. Scott said he wanted his team to get used to the altitude instead of returning home.

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