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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant scored 27 points, newcomer Steve Blake hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18.8 seconds left, and the Los Angeles Lakers opened defense of their back-to-back NBA titles with a 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.
Pau Gasol had 29 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who hung the golden banner celebrating their 16th NBA championship and handed out their impossibly gaudy rings in a heartfelt pregame ceremony.
The champs then fell behind by 15 points before rallying for a fourth-quarter lead behind a 3-point barrage by Shannon Brown, who scored 14 of his 16 points in a 6 1/2 -minute span.
The clubs traded the lead four times in the final minute, but Houston’s Luis Scola missed a difficult scoop shot with 3 seconds left. After officials used a lengthy video review to award possession of the loose ball to Houston with 2.4 seconds to play, Aaron Brooks’ layup attempt at the buzzer was blocked by Lamar Odom.
Kevin Martin scored 26 points and Brooks had 18 of his 24 in the first half of Houston’s eighth loss in its last nine regular-season meetings with the Lakers.
Yao Ming had nine points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 6:30 left in his first NBA game since the 2009 playoffs, also against the Lakers. The Chinese center missed last season after surgery on his left foot.
The Lakers didn’t make the celebration easy in their first real game at Staples Center since that gut-wrenching, come-from-behind victory in Game 7 of the NBA finals four months ago. Los Angeles trailed by 11 points late in the third quarter before a 21-4 run featuring 12 consecutive points.
But the details of the opener paled in comparison to the pregame festivities for the nine remaining Lakers. The Lakers’ rings are ostentatious masterpieces of excess, featuring 16 oversized diamonds for each Lakers title, a three-dimensional rendering of each player’s face, and even a small piece of the leather from a basketball used in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
In contrast, the ring ceremony was small and heartwarming. NBA commissioner David Stern and Lakers executive Jeanie Buss stood at center court waiting for coach Phil Jackson, who accepted his 11th ring and said a few kind words before introducing forward Luke Walton, who introduced Odom, who introduced Ron Artest — all the way to Derek Fisher introducing Bryant to thunderous applause.
“This is what we play for,” Jackson said.
Yao largely looked good in his 24-minute limit mandated by coach Rick Adelman, missing his opening jump-hook but battling in the paint with Gasol and Odom. The Rockets took the lead and held it with their guards, who both had 20 points by the middle of the third quarter.
Brooks scored 15 points in the first quarter with a slick succession of jumpers and drives, while Martin also showed what he can do when healthy as Houston pushed to a 15-point lead in the second quarter.
The Lakers hung in with scoring from Bryant and Gasol, and Blake hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute of the third quarter to trim Houston’s lead to five points entering the fourth.
Brown’s layup put the Lakers ahead 88-86 with 9:08 left near the end of the Lakers’ big run. The backup guard who turned down bigger contracts elsewhere for his shot at a third ring then really went to work, hitting four 3-pointers in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the quarter to raucous cheers.
Houston took a 108-107 lead with 53 seconds left after Brad Miller’s free throws capped a 6-0 run. Gasol and Scola traded baskets before Blake came open on the perimeter and confidently hit a 3-pointer—the new backup point guard’s third of the night.
NOTES: Walton missed the opener with a strained hamstring, while Houston F Chuck Hayes played through a sprained right ankle. … Houston earned a season-opening win at Staples Center three years ago, before the Lakers acquired Gasol and began their run to three straight NBA finals. … For the 27th straight year, Jeffrey Osborne sang the national anthem at the Lakers’ opener. Courtside fans included Denzel Washington, David Beckham, Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith. Shaquille O’Neal’s estranged wife, Shaunie, watched from one row behind Lakers executive Jeanie Buss.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)