Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — During a career that has spanned 16-plus seasons, five NBA championships, an MVP award, 15 trips to the NBA’s All-Star Game and over 30,000 points, Kobe Bryant has long made it known that he loves the big stage. He believes there is no grander setting and no brighter lights than at Madison Square Garden, where Bryant has flourished throughout his career.
But now, New York City has a second arena thanks to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where Bryant and the Lakers visited for the first time on Tuesday evening in a 92-83 victory, their sixth in seven games.
Ever the showman with more than a few standout performances at MSG, the waning minutes of Bryant’s first visit to Barclays stamped his arrival under a new spotlight.
“There’s a lot of energy in the building, you could feel it, it was an electricity in the air,” said Bryant, who owns the MSG single-game scoring record with 61 points. “I like playing here, this is a pretty good building to play in.”
A mesmerizing drive through the lane followed by a dunk over Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries with 2:45 to play gave the Lakers a momentary 82-80 lead. Aside from turning back the clock on the play, it stood as the biggest highlight for what was arguably a pro-Lakers crowd, which serenaded Bryant with chants of ‘M-V-P’ on several occasions.
As Bryant has turned into something of a facilitator in the last 10 days, averaging better than 10 assists per game over his last six outings entering Tuesday, defenses have begun to slack off a bit. That’s precisely what the Nets were doing late and Bryant took advantage.
He went by Wallace, found himself with a wide open lane and as Humphries slid over to help, he was too late and Bryant went up and dunked over and between the two defenders.
The play brought much of the sellout crowd to its feet, mostly in appreciation of a play that Bryant used to make, but not so much any more at the age of 34 and with 17 years of NBA mileage on his legs.
“I was pretty shocked that the lane was so wide open,” Bryant said. “I think everybody’s drinking the ‘Kobe pass Kool-Aid,’ so everybody has been staying on the perimeter with the shooters. It just parted like the Red Sea, so I felt a little like Moses.”
A driving layup from Bryant a short time later gave the Lakers an 86-83 lead with 1:42 to go and with the Lakers up 88-83 with 45 seconds left, Bryant broke up an inbounds pass from Wallace and came up with the steal to all but end it.
“If Gerald said to me before the game that Kobe was going to go 9-for-24 with four assists, no questions asked,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. I thought the job Gerald did on Kobe was exceptional. All you can do is make a player that good work and he did that.”
These are crucial times and it’s Bryant who has been the glue guy for a Lakers team that appears to be picking itself up after a horrid start. However, there are new problems on the horizon.
Already without Dwight Howard, who missed his third straight game on Tuesday while dealing with a torn right labrum, Gasol went down late in the fourth quarter with what the team is calling a plantar fascia strain in his right foot. He left the arena on crutches and is set to have an MRI in Boston tomorrow. The Lakers play the Celtics on Thursday.
Howard is day-to-day, but has given no indication when he may be back. If that continues and Gasol is out for an extended period, he missed five straight games in January thanks to a concussion, the Lakers could be in some trouble with the stretch run fast approaching. They currently sit four and a half games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
“I’m very, very concerned about it,” Bryant said on Gasol’s injury. “Obviously, we don’t know the extent or the severity of the injury yet. But I’m very, very concerned to say the least. He and I talk quite a bit and he’s determined. He’s gonna figure this thing out and see what he can do, but he’s not gonna be discouraged.”
The only good news there is that with the frontcourt banged up, Earl Clark continues to be a revelation. On Tuesday, the New Jersey native scored 14 points and hauled in 12 rebounds for his third straight double-double and seventh in 15 games since joining the regular rotation on Jan. 8.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA