|Kobe Bryant (40 points) topped Carmelo Anthony (39) in their head-to-head duel. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)|
Bryant revives Lakers in Game 1 comeback
LOS ANGELES - Those wildly inconsistent Lakers showed up for their Western Conference finals opener against Denver and still managed to defend their home court.
Kobe Bryant scored 40 points, including six free throws in the final 30 seconds, to lift Los Angeles to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets last night after the Lakers trailed most of the game.
Pau Gasol added 13 points and 14 rebounds and Derek Fisher had 13 points for the Lakers, who faced a 7-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Gasol's two free throws tied the score for the last time at 99 before Bryant went to the line, offsetting a 3-pointer by Chauncey Billups and a free throw by J.R. Smith.
Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points, Billups added 18, and Kenyon Martin had 15 for the Nuggets, who hadn't played since taking care of Dallas in five games last Wednesday.
Game 2 is tomorrow in Los Angeles.
Bryant, who was 9 for 9 from the line in the fourth quarter, made two for a 101-99 lead with 30 seconds left. Trevor Ariza stole the inbounds near midcourt and the Lakers were able to run the clock down to 10 seconds before Bryant made two more free throws.
Billups hit a 3-pointer to get the Nuggets to 103-102 with five seconds left, but then Anthony fouled Bryant, who made his final two foul shots.
Smith made one free throw with 3.2 seconds left and missed the second intentionally. Bryant grabbed the game's last rebound.
"A good one, an important one," Bryant said of the win. "Like I told the guys in a timeout, this is a different series. We felt kind of down on ourselves with a slow start . . . I told them to forget about that, this is a different series."
Denver led most of the game in its return to the conference finals for the first time in 24 years. But the Nuggets couldn't stop Bryant over the final 6:48, when he scored 15 points, including 7 straight to help the Lakers improve to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. They are 8-0 this postseason when scoring 100 points.
The Lakers used a 9-0 run, including 7 straight by Fisher, to go ahead, 70-66. From there, though, the Nuggets ended the quarter on a 10-4 run to take a 76-74 lead. Billups had 5 consecutive points, including a free throw after a technical foul on Bryant, in the spurt.
The plot: Who has rights to Denver's Pepsi Center Monday night - the Nuggets, hosting their first Western Conference final since 1985, or the WWE's traveling TV soap opera?
WWE chairman Vince McMahon, the promoter who helped transform professional wrestling into prime-time television entertainment, fired the first salvo two days ago. In interviews with ESPN, he loudly called out Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke.
"Quite frankly, it's my view that Stan Kroenke should be arrested, should be arrested for impersonating a good businessman, because he's not a good businessman," McMahon said on ESPN.
WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said the company reserved the Pepsi Center Aug. 15 and had already sold more than 10,000 tickets for its "Monday Night Raw" event. He said the organization expects a sellout, with tickets ranging from $20 to $70.
But the Nuggets are planning to play Game 4 Monday at the Pepsi Center.
The NBA, which sets the playoff schedule, is leaving it to the Nuggets and the WWE to work out the dispute.