Bryant scores 21 of game-high 27 points in fourth

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After being booed off their own floor at

halftime and trailing by 27 points to start the fourth quarter, the

Los Angeles Lakers looked finished.

The Mavericks had trouble matching up with Shaquille O'Neal once again.
The Mavericks had trouble matching up with Shaquille O'Neal once again.

Sure didn't turn out that way in the end.

Instead, the Lakers pulled off the second-biggest fourth-quarter

comeback in NBA history to stun the Dallas Mavericks 105-103 Friday


"We choked, just flat-out choked,'' said Dallas guard Nick Van

Exel, whose team was outscored 44-15 in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers rallied from a 27-point deficit at the start of the

final period led by Kobe Bryant, who scored 21 of his 27 in the

final 12 minutes -- including a turnaround jumper to snap a 103-all

tie with eight seconds remaining.

The Lakers shot an amazing 16-of-18 from the field and hit eight

of 11 free throws in the fourth.

"We could have easily just rolled over and I don't think

anybody would have really been too surprised at that because we've

been playing so bad,'' Bryant said. "It shows the heart of a

champion still beats inside of us. We're fighters.''

Bryant's heroics came after he pulled his groin in the third

quarter when the Lakers trailed by 30. Trainer Gary Vitti was on

his way to tell coach Phil Jackson when Bryant yanked him aside.

"Gary was going to rat me out,'' Bryant said. "I had to jerk

his arm out of the socket and say, 'I'm all right, man. Don't

snitch on me. Let me play.'''

Bryant was held of Lakers practice on Saturday, but the Lakers say Bryant is expected to start Sunday against the Utah Jazz.

Michael Finley missed a 3-pointer with one second remaining for

the Mavs, who have lost 24 consecutive games to the Lakers in Los

Angeles over the last 12 years.

"We stopped playing. We had a hard time scoring and we were

terrible defensively in the fourth quarter,'' said Dallas guard

Steve Nash, who had 22 points. "It was too easy in the first half

and too difficult in the fourth.''

The Lakers joined the Indiana Pacers as the only teams to beat

Dallas this season.

"This is indeed one of the toughest losses I can remember as a

coach,'' said Dallas coach Don Nelson, who has 40 years of NBA

experience. "We don't normally lose games when we're ahead. This

is an exception to the role by an exceptional team.''

Shaquille O'Neal added 26 points and 11 rebounds for the

three-time NBA champions, whose fourth-quarter comeback was one shy

of the NBA record of 28 points by the Milwaukee Bucks against

Atlanta on Nov. 25, 1977.

"We played better defense. We had a lot of intensity and we

never gave up,'' O'Neal said. "The first 20 games have been really

bad. It really couldn't get any worse. We just kept playing, kept

fighting, kept shooting.''

In addition, the comeback from a 28-point halftime deficit was

the second-largest second-half rally in league history, trailing

only Utah's comeback from a 34-point deficit against Denver on Nov.

29, 1996, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Van Exel's 25 points led five Dallas players in double figures.

The Mavs, who made 15 3-pointers, had their four-game winning

streak snapped, but their 17-2 record is the best in the NBA.

"It's shocking,'' Dallas center Raef LaFrentz said.

Dirk Nowitzki had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Mavs, whose

last win against the Lakers in Los Angeles was on Dec. 12, 1990.

"For us to have a chance to beat them in a playoff situation,

we have to win here,'' Nelson said before the game. "And if we're

able to do it, I don't even know what it means because they're not

playing like they will play in another month or two. It's a big

game for them to try and turn their season around.''

Perhaps that's exactly what the Lakers did.

After throwing the ball away and shooting barely 40 percent over

three quarters, the Lakers rallied in the fourth. They opened with

a 21-4 run to get within 10 with 6:55 remaining.

The Mavs were clearly rattled by the Lakers' surge, with Van

Exel committing two straight turnovers before Nowitzki's errant

pass traveled across the court and landed in the seats.

By then, the Lakers trailed 96-93.

Nash and Bryant exchanged layups before Nash was fouled by

O'Neal and made both free throws for a 100-95 lead with 2:03 left.

Bryant scored on a driving layup and then Brian Shaw hit a

3-pointer to tie the game at 100 with 1:28 left. The Lakers took

their first lead of the game, 101-100, on a free throw by Robert


But Van Exel hit a 3-pointer -- his fifth -- to put Dallas back in

front 103-101 with 1:04 left.

Shaw hit a jumper for the final tie at 103. Nash missed and a

jump ball was called despite one referee signaling a foul on the

Lakers. LaFrentz won the tip over Devean George, but Nash turned

the ball over to O'Neal. Bryant scored the game-winning basket as

the fans erupted in applause and screams.

Game notes

Dallas F Eduardo Najera wasn't with the team because of a

sore left knee. ... The Lakers are 1-10 when trailing at halftime

this season. ... The Lakers activated F-C Samaki Walker from the

injured list and made room on the roster by waiving C Soumaila

Samake. Walker missed six games after straining his lower back

during a 111-99 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 24.