Thursday , Mar , 04 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Kobe’s jumper shuts down Rockets

Houston, TX (Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant hit the game-winning shot with 31.7
seconds left to lift the Los Angeles Lakers to a 96-93 win over the Houston
Rockets at the Toyota Center.

Shaquille O’Neal scored 28 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Lakers,
who have won three of their last four games. O’Neal was 13-of-18 from the
field, but made only 2-of-13 free throws.

“We know we can play with this team,” O’Neal said. “We just have to do
everything right.”

Bryant missed Tuesday night’s loss against Atlanta due to a court appearance
in Colorado for his pending sexual assault case, but showed no ill-effects
from the layoff. The All-Star guard ended with 18 points, 13 assists and eight
rebounds.

Gary Payton scored 14 points in the win.

Yao Ming poured in a game-high 33 points and hauled in eight boards for the
Rockets, who have dropped two straight. Jim Jackson netted 17 points and Steve
Francis contributed 16 points and 10 assists in the setback.

Los Angeles was down nine after three quarters and got within six points at
75-69 on Kareem Rush’s three-pointer early in the final period. However, the
Rockets built their advantage back to double-digits at 81-71 on Francis’ slam
dunk with 8:14 left in the game.

The Lakers then reeled off 13 straight points, capped by two free throws by
Bryant, to claim an a 84-81 lead with 4:26 left in the game. During the 13-0
spurt, O’Neal scored five points and Derek Fisher added a three-pointer.

“We found a way to get it done in the second half,” Los Angeles head coach
Phil Jackson said. “Our bench came through big. Guys made key shots in key
situations.”

Houston finally put an end to its long scoreless drought and countered with
four straight points to regain the advantage at 85-84. However, Luke Walton
responded with a three-pointer to give LA a two-point lead with 3:20 left.

The game stayed nip-and-tuck and Payton’s three-pointer with 1:27 left in the
fourth snapped a tie game and gave the Lakers a 92-89 edge. Francis then hit
two free throws with 58.3 seconds remaining to make it a one-point contest and
after a Los Angeles turnover, Jackson’s jumper from the right corner gave the
Rockets a 93-92 lead.

Bryant answered with a fadeaway jumper over Yao with 31.7 seconds remaining to
put the Lakers back ahead by one point. Yao’s long jumper with just over 10
seconds left clanked off the back rim and the ball shot out to Fisher and he
was fouled with 9.8 seconds to play.

Fisher netted both free throws to put the Lakers ahead 96-93 and Cuttino
Mobley’s three-pointer as the buzzer sounded rolled out.

“We just let it slip past us,” Mobley said. “We missed some easy shots.”

The Lakers led 29-25 a tightly-contested first quarter, but Houston came back
in the second, courtesy of a 14-0 run early in the second period, to grab a
46-34 advantage. During the spurt, Yao had eight points and Eric Piatkowski
chipped in five for the Rockets.

Los Angeles pulled within seven later in the half, but trailed 53-43 at
halftime. Yao scored 14 points, while Payton scored 11 points in the opening
24 minutes.

Yao’s basket four minutes into the third quarter widened the Rockets lead to
67-52, but Los Angeles battled back and trimmed its deficit to single-digits
at 71-62 after three periods.

HOU LAL