After securing their first NBA championship in quite some time, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2000-01 season as heavy favorites, ready to once again hoist the trophy. With a primed Shaquille O’Neal and budding NBA superstar in Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers had put together the ultimate complimentary squad.
On Feb. 7, 2001, Bryant had to take matters into his own hands against a competitive Western Conference foe. The Phoenix Suns were led by younger stars in Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.
The Suns entered the contest with a 26-19 record, ready to demonstrate the qualities that had them as an up-and-coming contender. Another key game note in favor of the Suns was the absence of O’Neal, who had last played in late January.
However, that just meant that Bryant had more opportunities to capitalize upon. The game got off to a slow start, with both teams playing excellent defense and suffering from subpar offense.
The Lakers put together a 21-14 lead in the opening quarter, with starters Bryant, Ron Harper, Rick Fox, Horace Grant and Greg Foster. Phoenix rebounded nicely to close out the first half, outscoring the Lakers by four points and trailing by just three at the half.
The back-and-forth matchup continued into the second half, with the Lakers showing they can take a punch and quickly throw one right back. They extended their lead to 11 points, taking a 70-59 lead into the final quarter.
Bryant made his presence felt coming out of the break, scoring 12 of his 32 points. The Suns were able to muster one last comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a nail-biter.
Trailing by just three points, they beautifully executed a play that resulted in a Tom Gugliotta 3-pointer. The crowd of almost 19,000 fans were in shock, with the Lakers surrendering their once comfortable lead.
However, they left a little too much time on the clock for No. 8 to do his thing. The Lakers inbounded it to Bryant, who worked his way towards nailing a 17-foot jump shot with less than three seconds remaining. The Suns were unable to counter, and the Lakers had a 85-83 victory.
Bryant was once again able to work his magic over the Pacific Division rivals, capping off an impressive night. He led the team in points (32), rebounds (eight), assists (nine) and steals (four).
Marion put together an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double on 6-for-12 shooting, while Kidd finished with 14 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Kidd and Bryant would create quite the relationship during their respective NBA careers, including a 2001-02 NBA Finals matchup and 2010 run together to claim Olympic Gold.
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