12:00 PM ET, December 23, 2007
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
NEW YORK (AP) -- From the jawing with Spike Lee and Chris Rock to the postgame news conference with his daughters on his lap, Kobe Bryant enjoyed every minute of his return to Madison Square Garden.
|Youngest to 20,000|
Kobe Bryant eclipsed Wilt Chamberlain in NBA history as the youngest player to 20,000 points Sunday.
|30 players are in the 20,000-Point Club: 18 are in the Basketball Hall of Fame; 10 are not yet eligible. Only eligible players not in Hall: Tom Chambers, Adrian Dantley.|
Making history made it even better.
Bryant added 11 rebounds and eight assists in his first game at the Garden in nearly two years. His 3-pointer in the opening minute of the third quarter allowed him to reach the milestone at 29 years, 122 days.
"I always like playing here, period," Bryant said. "Last year I didn't have an opportunity to play and I was upset about it. This is my favorite arena to play in so I'm just happy and relieved that I was able to play tonight."
Before Bryant, who was suspended last year when the Lakers came to New York, only Wilt Chamberlain (29 years, 134 days) and Michael Jordan (29, 326) had gotten there before turning 30.
Bryant's last basket came in the final minute after the Knicks had trimmed a 25-point deficit to one. The victory capped a 3-1 road trip for the Lakers, who headed home to host Phoenix on Tuesday.
Jamal Crawford scored 31 points for the Knicks, who were again without Stephon Marbury and have lost two straight and eight of 10. David Lee had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Nate Robinson scored 16 points.
After the Knicks fell too far behind to make a comeback likely for the second time in three days, coach Isiah Thomas said there would be lineup changes when the Knicks play their next game, against Orlando on Wednesday.
"We probably have the wrong guys starting and we'll look to change our lineup and try to get some more energy and defensive guys in the lineup," Thomas said.
Thomas didn't say where the changes would come from, but a splitting of the Eddy Curry-Zach Randolph tandem seems possible. Both played just 21 minutes, with Curry managing only eight points and one rebound.
Like great players before him, Kobe Bryant has starred in the NBA's most famous arena. The Lakers star has shined in his recent appearances at Madision Square Garden, including Sunday's 39-point effort.
|Stats||First 5 games||Last 5 games|
"I don't think anybody will take it personal," Curry said. "I think that we all know that he just wants to win. So you just take it for what it is."
At 8-19, nobody on the Knicks would argue with Thomas for thinking it was time to change.
"One through 12, it's no one in particular because throughout the first 30 games, whatever many we've played, it's been everybody," reserve Malik Rose said. "We just have to be able to lay everything we have on our shirts on that line."
Despite a sometimes sloppy effort that included no assists in the second quarter, the Knicks were spared the usual wrath of their fans, who instead seemed content to cheer Bryant and Andrew Bynum, a New Jersey product.
In fact, fans cheered when Bryant had to get off the bench to return to the game early in the fourth quarter after the Knicks closed within single digits. Sasha Vujacic then made a 3-pointer and Jordan Farmar knocked down a jumper, seemingly putting Los Angeles back in control at 80-68 with 9:45 to play.
"We did our normal thing. We asked the Lord's prayer after a Sunday ballgame," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Forgive us our sins and trespasses. We had some trespasses, there's no doubt about it."
But Crawford scored nine straight points for New York, and two free throws by Lee cut the Lakers' lead to 91-90 with 1:55 remaining. Crawford later missed with a chance to give New York what would have been its first lead, and Bryant's soft jumper fell in with 57 seconds left.
The Knicks had a final chance, but Farmar stole Lee's tipped inbounds pass and went in for a clinching dunk.
Bynum had 13 points for the Lakers, playing without starting forward Luke Walton (sprained right ankle).
Bryant was back at MSG for the first time since Jan. 31, 2006. He was hit with a one-game penalty by the NBA before the Lakers' game here last year for striking San Antonio's Manu Ginobili in the face in the previous contest.
Bryant scored 12 points in the first quarter, helping the Lakers open a 31-21 lead, then became more of a playmaker in the second. He had five assists in the period, the last coming on former Knicks forward Trevor Ariza's 3-pointer at the buzzer that made it 55-37.
Along with their no assists, the Knicks had seven turnovers in the period, drawing boos when Quentin Richardson threw the ball over the head of a wide-open Crawford on what should have been an easy breakaway.
The Lakers' lead grew to 25 in the third quarter, but the Knicks were within 75-61 headed to the fourth.
Bryant became the 31st player with 20,000 points. Though Bryant told reporters Saturday that the Knicks were one of the four teams he would have accepted a trade to, both coaches downplayed New York's chances. Jackson said there were no serious talks before the season, and Thomas added, "I never sincerely thought that the Lakers would trade him." ... Thomas said before the game he isn't sure when Marbury will return. The point guard has missed seven of the last eight games as he copes with the Dec. 2 death of his father.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||37-85 (.435)||30-76 (.395)|
|3PM-3PA||8-26 (.308)||3-19 (.158)|
|FTM-FTA||13-20 (.650)||27-38 (.711)|
|Fast Break Points||11||6|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||27 (0/1)||22 (0/0)|