The champion came through, and the young challenger will have to wait until next year to respond.
Bryant scored 33 points and hit a tiebreaking jumper with 1:15 to play, and the Los Angeles Lakers bounced back from consecutive home losses with a 102-98 victory over the pesky Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
Pau Gasol had 20 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers, and Lamar Odom scored 18 points off the bench as the defending champions barely hung on against the up-and-coming Sixers, whose resilient effort left coach Doug Collins thrilled.
Los Angeles never trailed for the sixth time this season but also couldn't shake the young Sixers until Philadelphia missed five shots in the final minute.
"Obviously, there's games that we're going to close out better," Gasol said. "But if you finish out the year with a win, you should be satisfied."
Holiday had 19 points and 11 assists, and Lou Williams scored 18 points for the Sixers, whose eight-game road trip concludes Monday in New Orleans. The Sixers won at Denver and Phoenix over the past five days but repeatedly fell just short of taking a late lead in their fourth straight loss to the Lakers.
While Lakers coach Phil Jackson lamented excessive mistakes and shaky late-game poise from his club, Collins headed into 2011 charged up about the Sixers' potential.
"I was really proud of our guys," Collins said. "They hung in and battled, and I thought we had four clean looks there [in the final minute]. I told our guys they should be looking forward to the new year, because we have a lot of things to be thankful for. Our guys are really maturing from where we started to where we are now."
After Bryant missed a jumper with 33 seconds left, Holiday and Williams took consecutive 3-pointers in the waning seconds. When Williams' shot missed with 4 seconds to play, the Lakers finally exhaled.
"My shot, I rushed a little bit, but we had two good looks, two chances to win," said Holiday, a Los Angeles native who played at UCLA. "Me being home, I'm excited, jumping around like a little kid. We made them shoot tough shots, and we had a chance."
The Sixers refused to wrap up 2010 quietly despite playing their third straight game without Andre Iguodala, who won't return from tendinitis for several more games.
Philadelphia cut the Lakers' lead to one point midway through the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run led by Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young, who scored 14 points. Holiday's 3-pointer in front of the Lakers' bench cut the lead to 96-95 with 2:45 left.
After Bryant hit a jumper, Young's three-point play with 1:33 left on a fast break created by Bryant's turnover tied it at 98. Bryant hit another midrange jumper, and Philadelphia missed four shots over its next two possessions before Bryant hit two clinching free throws with 1.9 seconds to play.
"Classic Kobe," Williams said. "He didn't have 40, so I think that's a good night for us, especially having guys who aren't familiar with guarding him."
Despite the late dramatics, the Lakers won their second straight after three straight blowout losses to head into a home-friendly January schedule with a bit of momentum. Six days after barely putting up a fight in the Miami Heat's Christmas win at Staples Center, the Lakers built on Wednesday's win at New Orleans.
After losing their previous two home games by at least 16 points apiece for just the third time in franchise history, the Lakers avoided their first three-game home losing streak since March 2008.
"We controlled the game in the first three quarters, but then they started playing better," Gasol said. "We did enough to hang on, but we can improve."
Andrew Bynum had eight points and 15 rebounds in his first start of the season at Staples Center, following up his return to the starting lineup at New Orleans. Odom, who willingly went back to the bench when Jackson shook up his struggling lineup, got a warm ovation when he checked in as a reserve.
Los Angeles hasn't lost three straight home games by double digits since February 1993. ... Jackson assisted Collins during their days with the Chicago Bulls. Jackson eventually replaced Collins and led the Bulls to six titles. ... Fans near courtside included Tom Petty, baseball agent Scott Boras, George Lopez, and actresses Heather Locklear and Regina King.