Resurgent Kobe Bryant leads Lakers past Pelicans, 99-96
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Kobe Bryant kept his right arm extended upward, his hand dangling as he held his follow-through on a 3-point shot with a minute to go.
The shot went down, the Lakers led by six, and Bryant wagged his index finger as he made his way back up the court with a good portion of the crowd cheering wildly.
Maintaining the vintage form he recaptured in a victory earlier this week, Bryant had 27 points and 12 rebounds, hitting three pivotal 3-pointers in the final 6:05, and the Los Angeles Lakers won their second straight, 99-96 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night.
''It was really special to be able to play in front of this crowd,'' Bryant said when asked about hearing his clutch shots cheered on the road. ''It makes me feel great. It makes me feel like all the hard work I put in through the years has been worth it.''
Bryant, who plans to retire after the season, noted that he'd even met a child on the sidelines named Kobe, and seemed gratified to have added such a moment to his farewell tour.
Bryant's missed free throw with 6 seconds left provided the Pelicans a chance to tie the game with a 3, but Jrue Holiday's shot missed the rim as time expired.
There were smatterings of purple and gold throughout the stands - only a small minority of it LSU gear. Lakers fans who wanted to honor Bryant in his final season showed up and made themselves heard with cheers that filled the arena each time Bryant checked into the game and when he hit shots. At one point in the first half, an ''M-V-P!'' chant broke out with Bryant on the foul line.
The cheers that erupted after his late baskets seemed somewhat bizarre, given that they spoiled the home team's frantic attempt to come back from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Anthony Davis had 39 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans, but his missed breakaway dunk in the fourth quarter - after which he briefly pulled his jersey over his face in embarrassment - seemed to define the night for New Orleans, which lost its third straight.
The Pelicans missed a couple of dunks among a number of misses from short range. They also missed 12 of 26 free throws.
''When we have as many breakdowns as we did, when we miss free throws, miss defensive assignments, we give them a chance to stay in the game and then they start getting confidence and feel like they can win,'' Davis said. ''That's what happened tonight and they won.''
Bryant said he arrived in New Orleans thinking about his previous game in the city last season, when his dunk resulted in a season-ending torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
''Tonight, I felt like I kind of exorcized my demons a little bit,'' Bryant said. ''I was like, `I want to get back out on this court and play - and play well.''
In doing so, he also showed he could still string productive games together as he did for most of his extraordinary career. Two nights earlier, he'd scored 38 in a victory at Minnesota.
''I knew the amount of training that I had put in over the summertime. I mean, I worked like crazy,'' Bryant said. ''It becomes more frustrating because you're not seeing those results. It becomes: `Maybe this is what happens (when you're older). You put all the work in and still there's nothing to show for it and you can't do anything about it.' And I had to be really stubborn and say, `No. You've got to continue to stay with the process,' as I always have, and see what happens.''
''I wasn't going to quit,'' Bryant added. ''At the end of the season, if these games never came around, I could look myself in the mirror and be comfortable with the fact that I tried everything.''
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said his team played ''selfishly'' on offense and failed to lock in defensively.
New Orleans missed eight of its first nine shots and trailed 13-2 just four minutes into the game.
The Lakers led most the game, by as many as 13 points.
''The most disturbing thing to me is that we talked about it before we went out that we can't play uphill against any team,'' Gentry said. ''Especially a team that has Kobe Bryant ... who is capable in close games of making any shot.''
Lakers: Jordan Clarkson scored 18 points for the Lakers, while D'Angelo Russell added 13 points and Julius Randle 11. ... The Lakers won the only other meeting earlier this season in Los Angeles. A third and final meeting is scheduled in New Orleans on April 8.
Pelicans: Holiday scored 19 for New Orleans, but missed five of six 3s he attempts as New Orleans went 4-of-20 from deep. Ryan Anderson and Bryce Dejean-Jones each scored 17. ... G Tyreke Evans missed his fifth straight game with right knee soreness. Gentry said he and trainers believe it's better to give Evans continuous rest until he can return at lost to full health rather than have him playing through pain and possibly worsening his condition.
Lakers: Visit San Antonio on Saturday night.
Pelicans: Visit Cleveland on Saturday night.