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Kobe lifts Lakers past Nuggets

KOBE Bryant scored 40 points and produced an inspired fourth-quarter performance to lift the Los Angeles Lakers to a 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Los Angeles on Tuesday and a 1-0 lead in the National Basketball Association Western Conference finals.

Bryant scored 18 points in the final quarter, including six straight free throws in the final 30 seconds, as the Lakers rallied from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Pau Gasol scored 13 points and caught 14 rebounds while making game-tying free throws in the final minute before Bryant sealed victory from the free-throw line.

"We just had to push through it," Bryant told reporters. "We didn't come with the kind of energy we wanted (and) guys were a little fatigued.

"This was a good win. It was a gut check for us."

Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points on 14-for-20 shooting for the Nuggets, who were unable to hold an 89-82 advantage with seven minutes remaining.

"We didn't do enough to win," said Nuggets coach George Karl.

"I don't know what you want to analyze, we played a very good game the only thing we did poorly at the end was turn it over.

"There are no moral victories in playoff basketball. The next 48 hours will be difficult."

Denver led 99-97 with 1:38 left then failed to score on two possessions. Chauncey Billups gave Denver one final hope with a three-pointer that pulled his team within 103-102 with six seconds left.

Bryant, however, immediately added two free throws and then grabbed the all-important rebound off Nuggets' guard J.R. Smith's missed free throw to end it.

"(Kobe) was a scoring effort for us. We had very little else going tonight and he muscled his way through that game," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Anthony blazed his way to 16 points in the first quarter where Denver jumped ahead 31-23 and had a prime opportunity to get the upper hand over the Lakers but was held back by poor free throw shooting (23-for-35) and untimely fouls.

Minor injuries

Both teams suffered minor injuries when Bryant dislocated a finger in the fourth yet kept playing, and Denver's Smith sprained his knee at the conclusion of the game but is expected to play in Game 2 tomorrow.

"A good one, an important one," Bryant said of the win. "Like I told the guys in a timeout, this is a different series. We felt kind of down on ourselves with a slow start. I told them to forget about that, this is a different series."

The Lakers were back in action 48 hours after closing out Houston in seven games in the conference semifinals.

Denver led most of the game in its return to the conference finals for the first time in 24 years. But the Nuggets couldn't stop Bryant over the final 6:48, when he scored 15 points to help the Lakers improve to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. They are 8-0 this postseason when scoring 100 points.


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