Rick Adelman's first game as the Houston Rockets' coach was a winning one. Kobe Bryant made it a nervous one.
Bryant scored 45 points, 18 in the fourth quarter, but Shane Battier made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left in the Rockets' 95-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.
Booed before the game, Bryant won back the fans - and nearly the game.
"Overall, I thought it obviously was a good win," Adelman said after the Rockets squandered a late 14-point lead. "We just didn't finish it very well, but the second half we were pretty solid until the last few minutes. It's hard when Bryant keeps getting on the line and the clock stops."
Tracy McGrady scored 30 points and Yao Ming had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets.
Bryant and his old backcourt mate, Derek Fisher, almost pulled it out. After Bryant got the Lakers close, Fisher hit a jumper to cap a 13-0 run that tied it at 92 with 13 seconds remaining.
Battier followed with his 3-pointer, then fouled Bryant before he could get off a shot with 1.3 seconds on the clock.
"He's hit big shots in the past, so it's good it went to him," Adelman said of Battier. "We wanted to foul before he (Bryant) took the shot and we definitely did that. He hadn't even turned around yet when Shane fouled him."
Bryant was given two free throws despite his protest that he was beyond the arc trying to shoot and should have gotten three. He made the first and intentionally missed the second. The rebound came back to him, but the ball was knocked out of his hands as time expired.
Bryant, who over the summer called the Lakers' front office a mess and asked to be traded, drew some boos during pregame introductions, but most of the fans in the sellout crowd of 18,997 were on their feet cheering when he led the team's comeback.
"I understand where they're coming from, but they really don't know the entire situation because I just keep my mouth shut - as I should," Bryant said. "They shouldn't worry about it, just focus on watching us play and watching us do what we do, and the business side of it should remain behind closed doors.
"But it was good to see them come back to normal later in the game."
He said it wasn't difficult for the Lakers to leave any problems off the court.
"When we're playing in a game, we just focus on one another and the bonds that we have," Bryant said. "It has nothing to do with (trade) speculation or business or anything like that.
"Business a lot of times can cloud the game and take the fun out of the game if you allow it to. And that's something that I won't allow to happen."
After things quieted down at training camp, Lakers owner Jerry Buss stirred them up again by saying he would listen to trade offers for Bryant.
Fisher, who rejoined the team this summer, scored 17. He and Bryant were the only Lakers in double figures.
Bryant was 13-of-32 from the field and 18-of-27 from the line. The Lakers missed 18 of their 45 free throws.
The Rockets had a busy offseason, with Adelman's replacing Jeff Van Gundy just one of a number of changes. They added point guards Mike James and Steve Francis, and power forward Luis Scola of Argentina, with that trio figuring to fit well in Adelman's up-tempo offense. James had 13 points, Scola played 9 minutes and didn't score, and Francis didn't play.
Bryant, wearing a sleeve on his right arm to keep his injured wrist from stiffening up, as usual made a number of spectacular plays in the loss. In the first quarter, he drove, scooped the ball left-handed under Yao's arms, off the glass and into the hoop.
Bryant also did some playmaking, including a drive when he dropped the ball off to the trailing Ronny Turiaf and Turiaf dunked to bring a roar from the crowd.
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