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 Bryant's 3 sparks Lakers past Nuggets

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PostSubject: Bryant''s 3 sparks Lakers past Nuggets   Sun May 24, 2009 7:02 pm

DENVER(AP) Trevor Ariza's clutch steals are punching a dagger in Denver's season just as much as Kobe Bryant's big baskets.For
the second time in three games, Ariza stole an inbounds pass in the
final minute to help Los Angeles beat the Nuggets, this time 103-97 at
the Pepsi Center for a 2-1 lead that restored the Lakers' home-court
advantage in the Western Conference finals.Ariza, whose steal of
Anthony Carter's lazy lob sealed the Lakers' win in the series opener,
sliced in front of Carmelo Anthony to swipe Kenyon Martin's inbounds
pass with the Lakers clinging to a two-point lead with 36 seconds left.Anthony fouled out to prevent the breakaway basket and Ariza sank both free throws for a 99-95 lead."Trevor,
he's very crafty, he's long, he's fast, he's quick and he's a ball
hog,'' said Bryant, who scored 41 points. "He does a good job of
reading those things. It's a great defensive play.''As he did in
the first game, Lamar Odom guarded the inbounds, only this time it
wasn't the shortest player on the team he was facing, but the 6-foot-9
Martin trying to get the ball in over the Lakers' 6-10 forward."He's
long, look at him,'' Sasha Vujacic said of Odom. "He's very long. He's
athletic. He's got eyes behind his ears. He knows how to jump all
around the ball.''Hounded, K-Mart called timeout, but on the
redo, he wasn't so lucky as he led 'Melo too much with the pass and
Ariza snatched away both the ball and Denver's shot at a win for the
second time in five nights."It was kind of deja vu from Game 1,'' Anthony said.Ariza thought so, too."It
was kind of funny,'' he said. "It was pretty much the same thing,
different players. But we got the steal. We got a win, that's the most
important thing.''Bryant made four free throws in the final 22
seconds to seal the win after sinking a 3-pointer over J.R. Smith with
1:09 left to put Los Angles ahead for good at 96-95."Kobe does
that time and time and time and time and time again for game winners,''
Odom said of Bryant's 3-pointer. "It is routine - for him.''Pau Gasol added 20 points and 11 rebounds."I
think Gasol was the key to them winning tonight,'' Anthony said.
"Getting him going and him making shots, it made it hard to double-team
him and still try to guard Kobe out there.''Anthony scored 21 points but just three after halftime, and Denver lost at home for the first time since March 9."I
don't really think they did anything different tonight. But I missed
some easy shots,'' said Anthony, who had averaged 35 points in his
previous five games but went just 4-for-13.Before Saturday
night, the Nuggets, who had won 16 straight games at home, had been
dominant in Denver in the playoffs. They ran away with all six games at
Pepsi Center against New Orleans and Dallas by an average of 17.5
points.The Nuggets led most of the game but were done in by poor
decisions and a failure to keep their composure. They shot just
5-for-27 on 3-pointers and committed three technical fouls.Game
4 is Monday night, when the Lakers and Nuggets will have the Pepsi
Center to themselves after World Wrestling Entertainment moved Monday
Night Raw to the Staples Center in Los Angeles because of the double
booking that WWE chairman Vince McMahon milked for all it was worth.That
doesn't mean the crowd in Denver won't see some elbows, forearms and
more trash talking like they did Saturday night, when there were five
technicals called, including one on Smith for taunting Vujacic after
swishing a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer.The Nuggets
took a 79-71 lead on Smith's bucket. Vujacic, who had just hit a
3-pointer of his own, his first points of the game, nearly stole
Billups' pass, but Smith snared it, spun and swished the 3-pointer as
the backboard lit up in red and he fell to the floor with the crowd
going crazy.Caught up in the moment, Smith jumped up jawing at Vujacic and was T'd up.After
Bryant swished the technical free throw, Denver would miss its first
nine shots of the fourth quarter, finally putting a shot through the
hoop on Martin's dunk with 6:34 left."I rank this right up there
with some of the biggest road wins we've had since I've been a Laker,''
Bryant said. "Because, in the past we always had guys that had a lot of
experience. Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Ron Harper, they've all been
through this before. For our guys this is brand new."Last year we weren't tested like this. And it goes a long way for us as a ballclub.''Notes:
Lakers C Andrew Bynum has been saying he wants to play more minutes and
his coach said he can if he plays better defense. He had seven points
and four boards in 21 minutes. ... This marked the first time Bryant
had scored 40 points twice in one playoff series.

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