Kobe Bryant hadn’t been playing his best basketball of the season coming into the Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee, the final of seven straight games away from Los Angeles. In fact, in his last nine games, Bryant had shot over 50 percent just twice.
But he played like the MVP in leading his Lakers to a 104-98 win in Wisconsin, making all seven of his first half attempts and finishing with 30 points on the evening.
Bryant added eight boards with four assists and steals to send L.A. home the right way; He was consistently good throughout the tilt, keeping the Lakers in the game through three quarters despite Milwaukee’s 60 percent shooting, and turning it up another level in the fourth. With his shot not falling in the second half (3-of-12), Kobe deferred to Pau Gasol for several fourth quarter minutes while encouraging some solid team defense as L.A. surged past the Bucks to claim a 10-point lead with 3:47 left in the game.
“We got some big defensive stops when we needed to,” said Bryant. Yup.
Things did get a bit dicey for the Lakers as the Bucks responded with a 7-0 run, but Pau Gasol managed to tip out Bryant’s long missed jumper and force Milwaukee to foul Kobe with 18 seconds left. Bryant swished both free throws to get his 30, and L.A. earned its 59th win of a regular season that closes with 5-of-7 games at home.
That Gasol offensive board was his first of the night (plus five defensive), and capped an interesting night for the Spaniard. Through three quarters, Gasol looked sluggish in making only 2-of-6 shots for seven points with four boards … But it was a different story in the fourth. The big rebound aside, Pau was huge down the stretch, tapping into his reserve tank to score eight points as Milwaukee struggled to find a defensive answer for the seven footer.
Sasha Vujacic was similarly valuable, scoring 13 points off the bench on a perfect 3-of-3 from the field and 5-of-5 at the line as he played the entire fourth quarter. Vujacic added five boards and three assists, while Lamar Odom contributed a 20-10 double-double to the cause.
Vujacic was joined by Jordan Farmar off the bench in finishing the fourth quarter, as Jackson liked the activity, quickness and defensive intensity displayed by his backup guards. Their combined effort alongside Bryant, Gasol and Odom held the Bucks to 17 fourth quarter points, their fewest of the game by seven.
After the game, Phil Jackson said he expects his team to continue its push to 60 wins while generally ramping up its play for the soon-to-come playoffs. They’ll get a good test right away with the 48-26 Houston Rockets looking to avoid a season sweep from the Lakers on Friday night at STAPLES Center.
Until then, your numbers:
Triple-double in the career of Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee’s point guard who slashed L.A. up for 16 points, 16 assists and 10 boards.
Back to work on the offensive glass went Lamar Odom, to the tune of four of his 10 boards.
Turnovers by Los Angeles, leading to 16 Bucks’ points. Milwaukee’s 17 TO’s, on the other hand, led to 25 Lakers’ points.
Bench points for the Lakers, thanks mostly to the 13 from Sasha Vujacic.
Assists for the Bucks, half of which came from Sessions. Clearly, Milwaukee moved the ball around quite well.
Points in the paint ceded by the Lakers. Good thing they scored 48 of their own.