Bum wrist and all, Kobe Bryant showed why he’s one of the NBA’s best closers, breaking open a tight game with 15 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ final 17 points.
Bryant finished with 48 points, tops in the league this season, in a 99-83 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, the Lakers’ seventh straight win at home and third in a row overall.
“Not bad for the seventh-best player in the league,” Bryant said, referring to an online ranking of the NBA’s top 500 players.
The NBA’s leading scorer topped the 40-point mark for the first time this season with his fifth straight game of 25 or more. Bryant was 18 of 31 from the floor and made 12 of 13 free throws. Pau Gasol added 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“If I play bad or have one bad game like I did in Denver, everybody cries for a change or cries for the fact that I’m too old. It’s just a bad game with a bad wrist,” Bryant said, referring to his 16 points in a loss against the Nuggets on New Year’s Day. “You got to figure out a way to get it done.”
Bryant said he gets an injection before every game to cope with his ailing right wrist.
In his previous four games, Bryant had 26 points against Memphis on Sunday, 39 against Golden State, 30 at Portland and 37 against Houston.
“He’s always going to be aggressive and assertive to score, but he’s picking his spots and he’s doing it in a very efficient manner,” Derek Fisher said.
“That ranks it right up there with the best of them because it doesn’t look like he’s trying to do it. He’s just doing it within the flow of the game. That’s been very effective for him and for us.”
The victory was especially sweet for Bryant, who has never hidden his disdain for the Suns, a team right behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division.
“I don’t like them,” he said. “They used to whup us pretty good and let us know about it. I won’t forget that.”
Channing Frye scored 17 points, Marcin Gortat had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Steve Nash added 13 points and eight assists for the Suns, who had their two-game winning streak snapped.
The Suns hung around until the game’s final 6 1/2 minutes, when they trailed by one. That’s when Bryant took over with a variety of moves, banking in a jumper, dunking on consecutive baskets, hitting a fade away and making his free throws.
“He’s the best player in the game, so you come to expect that type of performance from him, if not regularly, then throughout the season at different times,” Nash said. “He was phenomenal.”
Shannon Brown scored Phoenix’s first six points of the fourth quarter, twice drawing the Suns within one. He and Frye then hit consecutive 3-pointers that got the Suns to 83-82, but they were never able to take the lead in Brown’s first game against his former team. He finished with 11 points.
“If he don’t care about his wrist, I don’t care about his wrist,” Frye said. “Everybody makes a big deal about it, but he’s been scoring 28, 30 a game. So let’s just call it what it is. He’s a great player, he’s the best individual player in basketball, and every night he comes to work. For us, we don’t like losing to the Lakers. But they came out and played a good game, and he played an amazing game.”
Phoenix led by one in the third and tied the game twice after that before getting outscored 11-6 to end the quarter trailing 73-68.
“I thought we did a good job of defending Kobe, but the guy makes tough shots. There’s a reason he is who he is,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “Obviously, Kobe took the game over at the end there and we just couldn’t make the shots. Part of it was their defense, and part of it was that we just didn’t make the doggone things.”
The Lakers led 46-40 at the break after allowing the Suns to erase most of their 12-point lead in the second quarter. The Suns got balanced scoring in a 15-2 run that drew them within one before Bryant and Gasol keyed a 9-2 spurt to end the first half, when Bryant scored 23.
Bryant scored 13 of the Lakers’ final 15 points to put them up 25-19 in the first quarter after they trailed by nine.
NOTES: It was Bryant’s 108th career 40-point game. He had three last season. … The Lakers had 15 turnovers after turning the ball over 27 times in a 90-82 win against Memphis two nights earlier. … The Lakers G Jason Kapono missed the game to be with his wife after she gave birth to twins and F-C Troy Murphy sat out with an upset stomach. … Brown said he had mixed emotions about facing the team he won two NBA titles with before leaving the Lakers as a free agent. Bryant scored over Brown to end the first quarter. … The game was the first of 18 back-to-back sets the Lakers will play in this lockout-shortened season. They’ll be at Utah on Wednesday night.