Kobe Bryant scored 42 points in his third straight 40-point performance, and the Los Angeles Lakers blew a big early lead before hanging on for their fifth straight victory, 97-92 over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who won their eighth consecutive game at Staples Center since Christmas. Until Bryant took charge, Los Angeles allowed a 19-point lead to dwindle to three in the final minutes of coach Mike Brown's first meeting with the Cavaliers since they fired him in 2010.
Bryant managed just seven points in the fourth quarter but hit two big jumpers down the stretch, giving him three straight 40-point games for the first time since March 2007, when he had five straight. Kobe is the third player in NBA history with 110 40-point games, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.
Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and Ramon Sessions added 12 for the Cavaliers, who have played eight of their first 11 games on the road. Cleveland foundered in the first half before rallying impressively in the second half, avoiding anything close to the embarrassment of last season's 112-57 debacle at Staples Center.
Bryant added another remarkable performance to his early season tear, with the 13-time All-Star showing the flair and determination of his best seasons. Playing through a torn wrist ligament that has visibly swollen his right hand, Kobe has scored at least 30 points in seven of his last eight games.
Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Matt Barnes added 15 points for the Lakers, who finished the first half with an 18-3 run for an 18-point halftime lead. Los Angeles led by 12 points heading to the fourth quarter, but missed its first eight shots and failed to score for more than six minutes, allowing the Cavaliers to pull within three points.
The Lakers missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the fourth before Bryant's 18-footer with 4:02 to play. Just seven players scored for the Lakers, with just four managing more than three points.
Los Angeles played without backup point guard Steve Blake, who has broken cartilage in his ribs. During the fourth quarter, the Lakers announced Blake will be sidelined for three to four weeks.
Derek Fisher had 10 assists for the Lakers, getting double-digit assists for just the 15th time in the point guard's 16-year career. Rookie Darius Morris also played 17 minutes in his second career game.
Before the game, Brown insisted he harbors no bitterness towards the Cavaliers or owner Dan Gilbert, who fired him after an otherwise incredibly successful five-year tenure ended without a championship. Brown went 272-138 at the helm of LeBron James' Cavs, who won at least one playoff round every year and reached the NBA finals in 2007.
"If I was back in Cleveland, it would be a little different," Brown said of his reunion game. "But a lot of faces on that team have changed."
Brown remains grateful to Gilbert for his first chance to be a head coach, and he took zero satisfaction in the Cavs' total collapse after he left. Cleveland won 19 games last season and is trying to rebuild behind No. 1 pick Irving.