INDIANAPOLIS – When Kobe Bryant couldnt be the tough guy on the court Friday night, he resorted to being an MVP coach.
After hobbling around on a severely sprained left ankle for 12 minutes, Bryant retreated to the bench, where he spent the rest of the night contesting calls, waving teammates into the right spots and even drawing something up on a clipboard for Dwight Howard to see.
He wasnt going to let up – or let his teammates down.
So on a night Bryant was held scoreless for only the 15th time in his 17-year NBA career, Howard finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and delivered a tiebreaking three-point play with 90 seconds left that sent the Los Angeles Lakers past Indiana, 99-93.
It really just continued to swell and I couldnt put any weight on it, so I called it a night, Bryant said after getting more treatment on the sore ankle in the training room. I told them before the game, `I dont know how much I have, but whatever I have, Ill give you.
He did plenty.
Bryant, known as a remarkably quick healer who hasnt missed a game since the 2009-10 season, gallantly played less than 48 hours after turning his ankle when he landed on Dahntay Jones foot in the waning seconds of Wednesdays loss at Atlanta.
Without their top player, the Lakers (35-32) still extended their lead to one game over Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West by beating up on a team that came into the game with the leagues No. 2 defense and the leagues fifth-best home record.
Metta World Peace finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, Steve Blake made five three-pointers and finished with 18 points, and Antawn Jamison added 17 points with four threes.
We dont shoot much better than that, DAntoni said when asked about going 13 of 26 from beyond the arc.
For the Central Division-leading Pacers (40-25), it was a blown opportunity.
George Hill scored 27 points, Paul George had 20 points and Lance Stephenson finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. But Indiana shot only 37.4 percent from the field and couldnt make a serious run at Los Angeles after Howards big play, primarily because the defense couldnt stop the Lakers from outside.
We had too many breakdowns, we didnt follow the game plan, coach Frank Vogel said. Guarding the 3-point line was probably the biggest of the mental breakdowns. We left shooters left and right, a variety of different ways. We didnt play a good basketball game.