The Denver Nuggets were right on the Los Angeles Lakers’ heels when Kobe Bryant suddenly got hot.
Oh, did he get hot.
Bryant scored 19 points in a span of 4:19 of the fourth quarter Wednesday night, and the Lakers beat the Nuggets 122-107 to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
Games 3 and 4 will be in Denver on Saturday and Monday night.
Bryant finished with 49 points and 10 assists—one shy of his career playoff high in both categories.
“Tonight, the way he was going, we probably could have put 10 people on the court and probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him,” said Nuggets star Allen Iverson, who wasn’t bad himself, getting 31 points and six assists.
“I didn’t realize it,” Bryant said when told about his scoring spree. “You just get into one of those rhythms. My teammates were looking for me, it just feels like the ball finds you.”
The Lakers led 89-79 entering the fourth quarter. The Nuggets drew within five points three times before a three-point play by Bryant with 6:41 remaining made it 101-93.
That was only the beginning.
Two free throws by Bryant in a span of two seconds after technical fouls against Smith and Iverson made it 105-94 with 5:37 left, and Bryant added a 3-pointer 18 seconds later to extend the Los Angeles lead to 14.
“The 3-ball he made was the big play,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I thought that kind of ended the game from the standpoint of our spirit. In a lot of ways, a great player ran us out of gas. The majority of his jump shots that he made tonight are somewhat undefendable.”
Bryant kept it going before his hot spell ended with 2:22 left when he made a three-point play, giving the Lakers a 120-101 lead. He came out for good 20 seconds later to a loud ovation and chants of “MVP, MVP” from the capacity crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center.
Bryant was replaced by Coby Karl, the son of the Denver coach. It was the first time in NBA playoff history that a father has coached against his son.
There was some trash talking between Bryant and Kenyon Martin, Denver’s 6-foot-9 forward who had the assignment of guarding the Lakers’ star in the first two games.
“He’s one of those players that you don’t really want to make mad,” teammate Lamar Odom said. “He can make shots from anywhere with people on him. I was surprised (Martin was talking at him). You never want to wake a sleeping giant. He can hit shots on anybody, on a number of defenders anywhere on the floor.
“Talking to him is a surprise to me, but guys are competitors too, so sometimes you get caught up in it. Kobe was definitely coming out to prove a point.”
Bryant shot just 9-for-26 in scoring 32 points in Game 1. He went 18-for-27 in Game 2.
Pau Gasol added 18 points and 10 rebounds and Luke Walton scored 18 points for the Lakers. Odom, hampered by foul trouble throughout the second half, was held to four points, four rebounds and six assists, but in the end it didn’t matter.
Carmelo Anthony added 23 points, J.R. Smith had a career playoff high 21 and Marcus Camby had 17 rebounds and four blocked shots for Denver. Martin, who fouled out with 5:47 remaining, scored 10 points
Anthony scored seven straight points to trigger an 11-0 run, giving Denver a 68-67 lead midway through the third quarter. With Odom on the bench with four fouls, Los Angeles appeared to be in some trouble. But Walton scored 10 points during a 22-11 spurt to finish the quarter and give the Lakers a 10-point lead. Bryant had four assists during the run.
Linas Kleiza made just his 14th start of the season in place of Anthony Carter, giving Denver more firepower and additional size. The move paid off early as Kleiza and Anthony both scored six points to help the Nuggets take a 20-14 lead.
Then Bryant went to work, scoring 16 of his 20 first-quarter points in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the period as the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 19-12 for a 33-32 lead. Bryant shot 8-for-10 in the period, compared to his 9-for-26 effort in Game 1, when he scored 18 of his 32 points in the final 8 1/2 minutes of the Lakers’ 128-114 victory.
The Lakers outscored Denver 14-4 to start the second quarter for a 47-36 lead. Bryant had 25 points in the first half, which ended with Los Angeles on top 59-49. Gasol, who had 36 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in Game 1, had just four points, four rebounds and no assists at the midway point of this game.
Bryant’s 20 first-quarter points were two shy of the Lakers’ playoff record. Elgin Baylor scored 22 in a quarter on March 15, 1961, against Detroit. … Backup forward/center Ronny Turiaf stayed home because on tonsillitis. Lakers spokesman John Black said the team expects Turiaf to make the trip to Denver on Friday. Turiaf, who has been sick for several days and played only three minutes in Game 1, averaged 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 78 games during the regular season. … Karl took Turiaf’s place on the active roster. Father and son are very close. “I saw him last night, I think he wore every piece of Lakers gear he owns,” the elder Karl said. … Denver’s Nene returned had two points and one rebound in seven first-half minutes. He missed seven games because of a strained right groin.