SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Kobe Bryant emerged triumphant from a
hectic weekend that was more than most 22-year-olds could handle.
In a 48-hour span, Bryant played a phenomenal game, rushed home
to Los Angeles to check on his wife's health, then hurried back to
Sacramento for another amazing performance that put the Lakers in
the conference finals.
Bryant set career playoff bests with 48 points and 16 rebounds
Sunday as the Lakers advanced to their second straight Western
Conference finals with a 119-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings,
sweeping the best-of-seven series.
When he finally was able to relax, Bryant could only praise the
Kings and deflect the praise heaped on him for his poise under
pressure from many fronts.
"We needed to be challenged like this," Bryant said. "We
needed a gut-check. We needed to go into (the conference finals)
feeling like we're playing our best basketball. ... I just wanted
to run and push myself to the point of exhaustion."
Bryant, who married Vanessa Laine last month after an engagement
that began during last season's playoffs, found out hours before
tipoff of Friday's Game 3 that she had been taken to an emergency
room with a severe pain in her left side.
After being assured by doctors that his wife's life wasn't in
danger, Bryant scored 36 points in the Lakers' victory and rushed
home, only to find his wife sleeping off her undisclosed malady.
After a relaxing day, Bryant returned to Sacramento and finished
his two-game virtuoso performance.
"It wasn't a distraction at all," Bryant said. "It puts
things in perspective a little bit more. You understand that this
is just a game. The love that I have at home with my wife means so
much to me. It's important that she stays in good health. It was a
Bryant scored 15 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers, who
won their 15th straight game since April 1, weathered a strong
effort from the Kings and advanced to face the winner of the San
Antonio-Dallas series. The Spurs can advance with a victory at home
After record-setting performances in the first two games of the
series, Shaquille O'Neal had 25 points and 10 rebounds. He spent
his second straight game in foul trouble under constant pressure
from the fired-up Kings, and fouled out with 3:09 left.
No matter: Bryant carried the Lakers' offensive load with ease
and flair, blowing on his hot shooting hand during one particularly
impressive second-half stretch of jumpers and drives. He had 28
points after halftime.
"It was emotionally draining, but to be able to pull through
all of that as a team, it felt so good," Bryant said.
Bryant keyed a fourth-quarter rally that gave Los Angeles a
seven-point lead, but the Kings cut it to 108-107 on rookie Hedo
Turkoglu's free throws with 1:57 left.
Bryant then hit one of two free throws -- after making his first
13 from the line -- and buried a jumper with 1:21 left. He added
three more free throws in the final 35 seconds as the Lakers hung
"We had to play from a deficit with ballplayers in foul
trouble, but we played well behind them," said Lakers coach Phil
Jackson, who won his 18th straight playoff series.
Los Angeles was just 4-6 in potential clinchers during last
season's title run, but the Lakers knocked out Portland and
Sacramento on their first tries this season.
The Lakers got 20 points from Derek Fisher, but they continued
to rely on their superstar duo for the bulk of their offense. While
O'Neal was limited by a steady stream of defenders and
double-teams, Bryant dominated his matchup with Sacramento
defensive stopper Doug Christie.
"We finally got things going offensively, but Kobe Bryant was
just fantastic," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. "He was
possessed. Even when he missed shots, he got them back."
Arco Arena, quiet after the Lakers pushed Sacramento to the
brink with a victory in Game 3 two days earlier, was at its
deafening loudest as the Kings finally played some semblance of the
hot-shooting, slick-passing game at which they excel.
Chris Webber, in what was probably his last game with
Sacramento, had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists -- but he
went 8-for-25 from the field and had just two points in the fourth
"I always feel I could play better, and it definitely wasn't
enough to win," Webber said. "It's definitely disappointing, but
the truth of the matter is the Lakers are a great team. They've got
great balance, scoring, defense and everything."
Turkoglu scored 22 points as the Kings' best season in two
decades ended with a standing ovation from their grateful fans.
Peja Stojakovic, silenced by Rick Fox the rest of the series, had
26 points, and Vlade Divac added 18 points and 10 rebounds.
After missing all but one of their 3-pointers in Game 3, the
Kings hit six in the first half. Turkoglu, who sparked Sacramento
with 10 points in the second quarter, hit a jumper from a step
behind the line at the first-half buzzer to give the Kings a 59-53
|Vlade Divac and the rest of the Sacramento Kings couldn't find any answers in trying to stop the Lakers.
In a first-half moment both scary and funny, O'Neal and
Bobby Jackson tumbled out of bounds into a mass of photographers
and fans along the Kings' baseline, with O'Neal landing on top of
the Kings' point guard. Both players emerged from the pile with a
smile. ... Webber's father, Mayce, was in attendance, and he said
he hopes his son will return to Sacramento next season. Still, most
believe the younger Webber already has decided to leave when he
becomes a free agent this summer.
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Rick Adelman thought Kobe Bryant was unstoppable on Sunday.
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