Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Shaquille O'Neal won the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award, but Kobe Bryant won Game Two.
Bryant's fallaway jumper with 2.6 seconds remaining lifted the Los Angeles Lakers to a thrilling 97-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns, giving them a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.
On the Lakers' final possession, Bryant hit a 14-footer over the outstretched hand of Jason Kidd, giving Los Angeles a last-second victory. Plagued by foul trouble in the first half, Bryant finished with 15 points and proved teams cannot focus all of their attention on the Lakers' hulking center.
Bryant called the shot his biggest ever.
"It's a situation you dream of... like when I was a kid in my backyard," Bryant said. "Everything was going in slow motion. I just tried to read the defense to see where everybody was. I had to pull the shot back a little bit and thank God it fell."
The Suns called timeout and had a chance to win but a desperation jumper by Penny Hardaway fell short. Hardaway, who had 27 points and eight assists, also missed a running jumper with 22 seconds left, setting the stage for Bryant's heroics.
Hardaway appeared to have drawn contact on the play but no foul was called.
"We were right there," Kidd said. "Anytime you're on the road, it's the last two minutes where the game is won and lost. Kobe double pumped and made a tough shot. And we didn't get a good look (on the final shot). We didn't want (Kobe) to get to the basket. I thought I played pretty good defense. You've just got to give him credit."
The contest bore little resemblance to Game One, when the Lakers dominated the second half and won easily, 105-77.
"What you want is a chance to win the ballgame," Kidd said. "In Game One, we didn't have a chance. Tonight, we did."
O'Neal, who accepted his trophy before tonight's game, fell one vote shy of becoming the league's first unanimous MVP. He provided his usual dominance with 38 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks.
"Shaq had 38 and 20, those are MVP numbers," Kidd said. "The biggest thing is that we never hung our head and and we never gave up. Down (nine) to start the fourth quarter, we actually took the lead, so we know we can play with these guys. It's just a matter of finishing."
Cliff Robinson had a playoff career-high 30 points for Phoenix, which hosts Game Three on Friday. Robinson chose to focus on the positives of Game Two.
"We go home 0-2 but we know we're capable of beating that team," Robinson said. "Kobe made a tough shot. We did what we needed to do to give ourselves a chance to win and we just came up a litle short. We definitely let them know that we're not going to give up."
Phoenix trailed by nine points entering the fourth quarter but a slam by Rodney Rogers followed by a jumper and dunk by Robinson cut the deficit to 74-71 with 10:59 to play.
The Suns drew within two points several times in the period but were unable to pull even until Robinson's two free throws tied the score, 94-94, with 1:05 left.
Phoenix took its first lead since early in the second quarter with 46 seconds to play. Bryant kicked the ball and tried to save it before going out of bounds but threw it into the hands of Kidd, who fed Robinson for a driving layup. Glen Rice blocked Robinson's attempt but Hardaway converted the miss, putting the Suns on top 96-94, with 48 seconds remaining.
Bryant was fouled on the Lakers next possession but made only one of two free throws, allowing Phoenix to cling to a one-point lead.
But the advantage would be short-lived, as Bryant redeemed himself in crunch time.
"I'm a little disappointed in the players today," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We had a real good third quarter and an opportunity to extend the lead but we gave up a 3-point shot at the end of the quarter and started the fourth in kind of a daze.
We probably did not deserve that win, other than the fact that we were willing to play some defense."
"We had a lapse at the beginning of the fourth quarter," O'Neal said. "Nobody was really happy with the effort we put forth tonight. But Kobe hit a fabulous shot and we got lucky. We have to play four solid quarters. Phoenix is a dangerous team."
Rice had 13 points and Brian Shaw and Robert Horry added 12 apiece off the bench for Los Angeles, which shot 53 percent (39-of-73) but made only 16-of-28 free throws.
Kidd had 13 points eight rebounds and six assists in his second game back from a broken ankle. Unlike Game One when he was noticably affected by the injury, Kidd bore a closer resemblance to his All-Star self. The Suns will need his best effort if they are to come back in the series.
"My ankle feels good, although tomorrow will be the key," Kidd said. "I never favored it. I think the three days off gave me some rest.
Robinson had 11 points as Phoenix took a 26-24 leads after 12 minutes. O'Neal dominated the second quarter, scoring 13 points including 11 of his teams last 12 in the session to give the Lakers a 50-46 lead at halftime.
The Suns shot 44 percent (37-of-85) from the floor and converted 17-of-22 from the line.