7:30 PM ET, February 6, 2003
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Bryant dazzled New York with an array of drives, jumpers and dunks, and O'Neal overpowered the Knicks inside as the Lakers won 114-109 Thursday night to enter the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time this season.
"Kobe and Shaq have shown they're the top two dogs in the league,'' teammate Robert Horry said. "They're carrying us. You have to give the credit to those two guys.''
Bryant matched his season high with 46 points and O'Neal added 33 as the Knicks had no answer for Los Angeles' dynamic duo. Bryant (40) and O'Neal (28) combined to outscore the Knicks in the first three quarters as the Lakers took a 97-67 lead.
The Lakers (24-23) then survived a spirited fourth-quarter rally by the Knicks to end the first half of the season with their fifth straight win, including four on the road.
"That was quite a show the first three quarters,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Shaq and Kobe put on a show tonight. It was a spectacular performance by Kobe tonight.''
After a sluggish start left the Lakers 11-19 following a Christmas Day loss to Sacramento, the three-time defending champions have won 13 of 17 to close within 1½ games of Houston for the final playoff spot in the West.
"We just have to keep doing it,'' Jackson said. "The championship rings don't mean anything unless we do it on the court. We found out the hard way that no one is really impressed by the championship banners.''
Bryant and O'Neal are a different story.
Bryant has scored at least 35 points in five straight games, scoring 201 points in that stretch. This scoring spree coincides with Jackson telling Bryant to take over more of the scoring load.
"He's opened the offense up and allowed me to penetrate more,'' Bryant said. "I'm getting the ball in position where I can score quickly. I'm being more assertive.''
The Knicks, who had won seven of 10, played the second half without leading scorer Allan Houston, who left the game with a bruised right wrist and is day to day.
"At least we gave them something to cheer about,'' Sprewell said. "Because early in the game they were pretty much cheering for those guys.''
Bryant had 16 of his 22 third-quarter points during a 25-9 run that put the Lakers up 95-61 with 1:41 to go.
Bryant started the run with a driving layup, knifing through the center of the Knicks' defense for the easy basket. He added three 3-pointers, a runner and a turnaround jumper from deep on the baseline. He flexed after his final 3 gave the Lakers a 34-point lead.
"When he's shooting that well from the 3 you can't really push up on him because his first step is so explosive,'' Sprewell said. "He does an excellent job getting around guys.''
The Knicks didn't go away, scoring the first 16 points of the fourth quarter to get within 14.
Sprewell, who made all nine of his 3-pointers Tuesday against the Clippers, hit a 3 to make it 103-91 with 5:34 to go.
After another Lakers' turnover, O'Neal blocked Sprewell's layup attempt and made one free throw to make it 108-102.
Sprewell shot an airball when Bryant appeared to hit his arm on the way up. Bryant then hit two free throws to make it 110-102 with 30.3 seconds to play.
"Absolutely I was fouled on the play,'' Sprewell said. "To me it was an easy call.''
The Lakers used a 17-4 run to go up 35-23 with 8:17 to play in the half. The game stayed fairly even until Bryant ended the half with some flair.
With just over a minute left, Bryant beat Sprewell to the baseline and threw down a reverse tomahawk jam that brought oohs and aahs from the fans.
"It's been a long time since I've had a dunk during the game that had the crowd buzzing a couple of plays later,'' Bryant said. "That felt good.''
Bryant then posed after hitting a 3-pointer over Sprewell with under a second left that made it 60-45 at the half.
The Lakers ended the first quarter with four dunks -- two by O'Neal and two off passes from O'Neal -- to take a 24-19 lead.
"It's a very had matchup for us to guard Kobe and to guard Shaq at the same time,'' Knicks coach Don Chaney said. "They put you in a dilemma no matter what you try to do.''
The Lakers have won three straight and nine of 13 against the Knicks. ... The Lakers improved to 9-15 on the road. ... Sprewell was 5-for-8 on 3-pointers.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||42-79 (.532)||44-85 (.518)|
|3PM-3PA||9-15 (.600)||13-22 (.591)|
|FTM-FTA||21-30 (.700)||8-16 (.500)|
|Fast Break Points||2||5|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||17 (0/0)||28 (0/0)|