Bryant adds 31 points, Lakers' 92-85 win to agenda

Hectic day ends with L.A. up 3-1 on Timberwolves

Pro Basketball

May 28, 2004|By Sam Smith | Sam Smith,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant's to-do list yesterday apparently looked something like this: Wake at 4 a.m. (PDT), fly to Colorado to sit in court most of the day, hear ugly things said about you and wish you never had gone there in the first place, fly home, take a nap, read the scouting report on the Minnesota Timberwolves, get some intravenous fluids, score 31 points and lead the Lakers to a 92-85 victory in Game 4 of the NBA's Western Conference finals.

And so it went once again as Bryant scored 18 points in the third quarter as the Lakers pulled away to bring themselves one victory from going for their fourth NBA title in the past five years.

Game 5 is in Minneapolis tomorrow night as the Timberwolves attempt to join the seven teams in NBA history that have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series.

"I felt OK," said Bryant. "The game was pretty wild. I told myself to relax, stay calm, focus myself and get the ball in the basket. They're going to be ready to play. They're going to play out of desperation. We're going to have to cut them off [in Game 5], I'll get some rest and be ready to play whenever it is."

Bryant's packed itinerary ended about an hour before tip-off when he returned from Eagle, Colo., after appearing at the sexual assault case against him. It was the fifth time Bryant had to journey back after leaving before dawn on the day of a game.

After each of the first four times Bryant had to make this trip, the Lakers won. This is the last time during the playoffs, even if the Lakers go to the NBA Finals, that Bryant will have to be in court on a game day.

"We're glad for that part," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "But we know [it] isn't over for Kobe. He still has some strenuous times to go through. For our sake as a basketball team it's good if we're lucky enough to continue on. It's still a concern to Kobe, which means it's a concern for us."

Minnesota was more active to open Game 4 and took a 24-23 first-quarter lead. The Timberwolves even got some of the foul calls for which coach Flip Saunders had been lobbying after the Lakers' free-throw parade in Game 3. It enabled the Timberwolves to move ahead 35-30 midway through the second quarter.

But with Derek Fisher's sharp-shooting and Shaquille O'Neal dominating the defensive backboards in the second quarter, the Lakers moved out to a 45-40 halftime lead. When the Lakers took a 54-47 lead early in the third, Saunders went to Plan B, putting in the hobbled Sam Cassell (Dunbar).

The point guard hit a jumper on his first possession, but then it was Plan K for the Lakers. After a quiet nine points in the first half, Bryant scored 18 in the third quarter. His reverse layup off the glass brought gasps. He added a slithering drive for a layup, a few jumpers and he tied up Kevin Garnett (28 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists) for a jump ball and then won the tip, bringing a standing ovation, chants of "MVP" from the crowd and a 75-60 lead for the Lakers.

"I don't know what they feed him on that plane," Saunders said. "Whatever it is we have to get some of that on our plane."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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