CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kobe Bryant scored a season-high 21 points and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 88-85 for their first win since Bryant returned from a torn Achilles tendon four games ago.
Bryant was 8 of 15 from the field and hit two free throws with 37 seconds left in the game to put the Lakers ahead for good.
Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill had 15 points apiece for the Lakers and Nick Young had 13 points off the bench.
Kemba Walker had 24 points and eight assists for the slumping Bobcats, who have lost three straight games and five of their last seven.
The Lakers trailed most of the game, but cut the lead to 85-84 after Bryant drove the lane and scored a left-handed layup with 1:22 remaining.
Al Jefferson and Walker would both miss on the other end and Bryant went to work looking to take the lead. He drew a foul on a jump shot with 37 seconds left and hit both free throws with some of the crowd chanting “M-V-P” while others booed.
Gerald Henderson missed a jumper for Charlotte, but Jefferson corralled the rebound and the Bobcats took a timeout to set up the last shot.
Jefferson backed down Pau Gasol but couldn’t convert a baby hook and the Gasol grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Gasol hit both free throws to push the lead to three with 6.2 seconds left.
Ben Gordon’s 3-pointer fell short as time expired.
Bryant came in averaging 11 points in his first three games.
He eclipsed that by halftime.
Bryant had 13 points, four assists and three rebounds in the first half as the Lakers staked to a 44-43 lead despite being outscored 28-12 in the paint. Bryant looked good from the start, scoring eight points in the first nine minutes, doing most of his damage with posting up his defender.
Bryant showed his touch when he banked in a 15-footer over Gerald Henderson and his range when he stepped out to knock down a 3-pointer from 26 feet.
But there were some struggles as well. Bryant air-balled a 3-pointer and threw a poor pass across court that was intercepted and led to a Bobcats layup.
“The thing that’s always made him different is his IQ,” said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, who worked alongside Bryant last year as an assistant coach with the Lakers. “He’s playing and he’s a step ahead of everybody. Although he’s blessed with athleticism, his greatness has always been the mental part. People don’t see how he talks to his teammates about winning and playing better. You can even see it now. When I watch him play, that’s what I see.”
The highlight of the game came in the third quarter when Josh McRoberts cut down the lane, took a pass from Walker and skied over Pau Gasol for a one-handed slam dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.
NOTES: Welterweight boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. took in game from courtside. … Henderson has scored in double figures in 22 games this season, including 15 straight. … The Lakers have won five straight against the Bobcats.