LOS ANGELES, January 20 – Kobe Bryant scored 20 points despite severe pain from a dislocated finger and outshined LeBron James in a showdown of superstars Monday to lead the Los Angeles Lakers past Cleveland 105-88.
In what could be a preview of June’s National Basketball Association Finals, the Western Conference-leading Lakers snapped a two-game losing skid and knocked the Cavaliers from the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Bryant, who had 12 assists, dislocated his right ring finger less than two minutes into the game while trying to poke the ball away from James.
Bryant grabbed his hand and the Lakers called a timeout. After going to the bench, the finger was popped back into place and Bryant returned to the court.
"That might have been the worst pain I ever played with," Bryant said. "It was really painful. I’m glad I got through it."
While he admitted the injury might cause him some problems until he adjusts to the pain, Bryant did play through the pain against James, one of the league’s top players, and excelled.
"I’m not concerned," Bryant said. "I played the second half with it. I will play the rest of the season with it. It was just really painful. I might have some trouble with my shot until I get used to it."
James scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds as he and Bryant, last season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, spent most of the game guarding each other. We know we can contain each other," James said. "If we contain each other the most, we can win the game."
"King James" hit only 9-of-25 shots from the field and surrendered six turnovers to the Lakers.
Spanish big man Pau Gasol scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who also had 14 points each from Andrew Bynum and Sasha Vujacic.
Cleveland led 50-49 at half-time but the Lakers surged ahead 75-66 entering the fourth quarters and built the lead as large as 91-73 before the Cavaliers rallied. Bryant scored seven points in an 11-1 Lakers run.
James tipped-in a basket to lift Cleveland within seven points with 3:32 to play but Derek Fisher hit a jumper and Trevor Ariza sealed the victory with eight points in a row for the Lakers, who hit 44-of-84 shots on the night.
Maurice Williams added 16 points for Cleveland, which had 10 points and 12 rebounds from Anderson Varejao.
The Lakers improved to 32-8 while Cleveland fell to 31-8. Both trail Orlando, 33-8, in the race for the NBA’s best record and a home-field edge throughout the NBA playoffs. Reigning champion Boston is next at 34-9.