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Published: 1/20/2009

Bryant, Gasol lead Lakers past Cavaliers

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cavaliers forward LeBron James shoots over Lakers center Andrew Bynum, left, and forward Lamar Odom in first half Monday night. Cavaliers forward LeBron James shoots over Lakers center Andrew Bynum, left, and forward Lamar Odom in first half Monday night.
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LOS ANGELES Dislocated right ring finger and all, Kobe Bryant did just what the Los Angeles Lakers needed against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So did his teammates.

Bryant and LeBron James tussled to a virtual standoff Monday night, but Bryant s supporting cast was far more effective, and that was the difference as the Lakers beat Cleveland 105-88 to snap a five-game losing streak to the Cavaliers.

Bryant had 20 points, six rebounds and 12 assists in 41 minutes despite dislocating the ring finger on his shooting hand less than two minutes into the game.

I just dove for the ball, and the finger just popped out, Bryant recalled afterward while wearing a splint on the injured finger. I was scared, I thought I was done. It felt like I had two fingers on one, it was just disgusting. [Trainer] Gary [Vitti] just popped it back into place. Not fun.

A lot, Bryant added when asked how much his finger bothered him during the game. I played with some pain, obviously. I just tried to adjust as I went along, I just tried to play through it. It s just throbbing right now.

Bryant, who shot 9-of-22, spoke to reporters just minutes after X-rays showed no fracture. He said he hadn t sustained this kind of injury before, and didn t believe he would miss any playing time.

For a while, we thought he was just going to be a playmaker tonight, but the second half, he started feeling like he could shoot it, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, noting Bryant scored 15 of his 20 points after halftime.

Pau Gasol shot 11-of-13 and led Los Angeles with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Andrew Bynum and Sasha Vujacic scored 14 points each and Derek Fisher added 11 for the Lakers, whose 32-8 record is tops in the Western Conference.

James had 23 points and nine rebounds, but shot just 9-of-25. Mo Williams added 16 points, six rebounds and five assists and Sasha Pavlovic scored 12 for the Cavaliers (31-8), who absorbed their most one-sided loss of the season.

You ve got to give the Lakers credit, they played a very good basketball game, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. I thought they were the aggressors tonight. I thought they got up in us and made us play quick. You have to give Kobe Bryant credit, I thought he played a whale of a game.

Bryant scored nine points during a 16-7 run to start the fourth quarter, giving the Lakers a 91-73 lead with 6:35 remaining. But just when the game seemed out of reach, the Cavaliers scored 11 straight points in three minutes to make it 91-84.

But a jumper by Fisher ended the drought, and Trevor Ariza made two 3-pointers after that, sparking the Lakers to a 14-4 game-closing spurt.

We got back to what we were trying to accomplish and finished the game, Jackson said.

Bryant began the game guarding James, and the fans reacted with a murmur of anticipation when they saw the matchup. Bryant spent most of the game defending the Cavaliers star, but had plenty of help from his teammates.

It s always great when you go against the best, James said. It brings out the best in you. He s one of the ultimate competitors that we have in our game today, and I enjoy going against him.

Defensively, they were really good. The same shots we made in the first half, we didn t in the second half. We had some open looks, but we couldn t capitalize and knock them down. And against a team like the Lakers, if you don t knock down shots, they can pull away because of how good they are offensively.

The Lakers avoided their first three-game losing streak since last January.

It was a huge deal, Gasol said. We didn t want to come out of this game with another loss on our homecourt. It was important for us to bounce back tonight. This is a significant victory for us. The defensive effort was outstanding.

Gasol scored eight points and Bryant added six during a 22-10 run that gave the Lakers a 75-64 lead largest of the game for either team to that stage. It was 75-66 entering the fourth quarter.

I thought we did a great job defensively, said Lamar Odom, who had eight points and 10 rebounds. It was fun. We have to load up on [James]. There s no way we re going to leave our best player on an island with him. Kobe did a great job of denying him the ball.



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