In a game summarized by Kobe Bryant as "irritating," the Los Angeles Lakers fought off adversity and a poor start on Friday to come away with a much-needed victory against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Los Angeles (24-27), which trailed 71-51 with 5:26 left in the third quarter, erased its 20-point deficit with a combination of play from Kobe Bryant and key role players en route to a 100-93 victory against the Bobcats.
"We had to fight and play as hard as we could play and not fool around on the outside," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "Hopefully, we learned that tonight."
The Lakers struggled in the first half, shooting 39.5 percent from the field and committing 11 turnovers. Los Angeles trailed 53-41 at halftime.
"We need to get it going early," Bryant said of his team's first half struggles. "We were down 20 in the third quarter. That is not getting it going early at all. We just have to play the right way. When we have shots available, we need to take them. If we don't, we move the ball. It can't be about individual touches. It just can't be about that."
Charlotte (11-38) got outstanding play from forward Byron Mullens in only his third game back from a left ankle injury that sidelined him for six weeks.
Mullens scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Friday's game.
On the opposite side of the court, Bryant — who was named a starter for the West squad in next week's NBA All-Star Game in Houston – was nearly silent in the first half.
He missed the only two shot attempts he took and was held scoreless in the first half of a game for the first time since March 31, 2012.
Bryant, who finished the half with five rebounds and two assists, said nothing changed in his game in the opening half.
"I just read the defense and made the right play," Bryant said. "I don't try to force actions or anything like that. I just try to make the right play. In the second half, I got into positions where I could catch it, turn and shoot a little bit. (Charlotte) became a little reluctant to double team because we started knocking down some shots. I think that makes the game a lot easier."
D'Antoni was concerned trailing by 12 points at the break with Bryant's inactive play.
"Obviously, being down, we were worried," he said. "But (Bryant) turned it on at a good time."
Appearing to be headed for a devastating loss to the NBA's worst team according to record, Los Angeles exploded midway through the third quarter with key play from unlikely sources.
A pair of Lakers' role players, including Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks, stepped up for their team. Clark scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his eighth double double of the season, while Meeks scored 14 points off of the bench.
The duo helped ignite a stagnant Laker offense, and a once-reserved Bryant set the tempo in the late stages of the game.
Bryant scored 20 points in the second half — 14 of those in the fourth quarter — helping the Lakers outscore the Bobcats 31-15 in the final stanza.
Bryant emphasized that the Lakers' philosophy should be focusing more on the team rather than spotlighting any individual performance.
"I think everybody wants to do well," Bryant said. "I think everybody wants to play well. Individually, you want to try to do the right thing. Sometimes, what you want to do as an individual conflicts with what you want to do as a group. You've got to just let that go and play. You take criticisms. If we lose a game, every points the finger at me for shooting the ball. That is fine as long as I'm confident that I made the right play to help us as a team. That's the most important thing. We all just need to follow that example and play for each other."
Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap gave credit to Bryant for his late game heroics, but was also proud of his team's strong effort.
"You're playing against the best closer in the NBA in Kobe Bryant, albeit that he got 20 points in the second half," Dunlap said. "Still, we sat on him, played him great and that can't be wiped away. We couldn't have given a better physical and mental effort tonight in many ways."
The Lakers' next test is Sunday against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
After Friday's win, Bryant spoke highly of defending NBA MVP and Miami Heat forward LeBron James for the growth in his game.
"He's a constant worker," Bryant said of James. "He continues to evolve his game, which is something I certainly respect. He was primarily a pick-and-roll player earlier in his career. He has started to develop a little post game and an elbow game. There is more confidence in his jumper. He's continuing to evolve his play."
The Bobcats go back to the drawing board and prepare for an Eastern Conference showdown on Monday with the Boston Celtics.
"I liked the effort all the way around," Dunlap said of Friday's performance by Charlote. "It was a hell of a basketball game, and I know you want your return as a win, but our team is ever-improving as we're going down this tough journey. There's not doubt about it. We're playing a good brand of basketball."