By Ben Golliver
Friday night couldn't have gone much better for Lakers fans, who saw their team's playoff picture improve as they witnessed a vintage performance from Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers beat the Raptors 118-116 in overtime at the Staples Center thanks to three Bryant three-pointers in the final 100 seconds of regulation and an emphatic dunk in overtime.
With 1:40 remaining and the Raptors leading 105-100, Bryant pumped and juked at the right angle, eventually sticking a three over Alan Anderson.
A little more than a minute later, with the Raptors leading 107-103, Bryant darted open into the left corner, setting his feet to launch a turnaround three over Anderson.
Then, with the Raptors leading 109-106 with eight seconds remaining, Bryant weaved through two defenders attempting to deny him the inbounds pass, eventually receiving the ball at the right angle. He pumped to let Amir Johnson fly by before burying his third consecutive three to tie the game.
Bryant's threes provided the bulk of a 10-4 closing run in regulation; Raptors forward Rudy Gay was unable to hit a buzzer-beating jumper on Toronto's ensuing possession, forcing overtime.
In the extra session, the two teams traded leads before Bryant threw down a dunk with 10.6 seconds remaining to give the Lakers the lead for good, 117-115. He beat a trapping double team from Raptors center Aaron Gay at the top of the key to work his way all the way to the rim.
"I knew Gray, he's not the fastest guy in the world, he's coming up to trap me," Bryant explained in a televised post-game interview. "I had to wait until he got close enough to me to attack him and go by him. Once I got by him I saw daylight and took off."
Bryant finished with a game-high 41 points (on 11-for-22 shooting), 12 assists, six rebounds, two steals and nine turnovers in 44 minutes.
L.A. also got some help from Chicago, who beat the Utah Jazz
89-88. The Lakers' win and the Jazz's loss moved L.A. to just 0.5 games out of the Western Conference's No. 8 seed. L.A. has now won six of its last eight games. Houston, the West's No. 7 seed, defeated Golden State 94-88 to open up a 1.5 game lead over Utah.