Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Lakers emphatically extended the NBA Finals to a deciding seventh game with an 89-67 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 6 last night.
Ron Artest had 15 points for the Lakers, who stared down elimination by jumping to a 22-point lead during a dazzling first half. While limiting Boston to the second lowest-scoring performance in NBA Finals history, the defending champions stretched the Finals to the limit for the first time since 2005.
A champion will be crowned Thursday night at Staples Center.
Ray Allen scored 19 points for the Celtics, who took an ugly pratfall on the verge of winning their unprecedented 18th title. It turns out their longtime rivals are still quite serious about earning their 16th championship.
Two years after the Celtics ended the Finals with a 39-point blowout of the Lakers in Game 6, Los Angeles turned Game 6 into a long nightmare for Boston. Only Utah's infamous 54-point performance against Chicago in 1998 was worse than this game, which included 33-percent shooting by Boston and a 52-39 rebounding advantage for the Lakers.
"We did a great job," Bryant said. "We have to come with the same energy, the same dedication to defense [in Game 7]."
Bryant had 11 rebounds, and Gasol led the Lakers with nine assists in a remarkable bounce-back game for Los Angeles, which dominated from the opening minutes by vacuuming up rebounds and playing relentless defense. The Lakers' bench largely took care of the rest, outscoring Boston's reserves and the Celtics failed to make a run.
"Our defense was good, our rebounding was better," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We had some good luck on some tips and offensive rebounds, and those things changed the course of the game."
These rivals have played a Game 7 four times in their 12 previous Finals meetings, with Boston winning all four. But it hasn't happened since 1984 - and it hasn't happened to Bryant, who looks determined to stake his claim among the NBA's greats in pursuit of his fifth title.
Bryant was a one-man band for much of the Lakers' three-game stay in Boston, but Los Angeles was a symphony in Game 6. Gasol was a constant low-post presence after disappearing for long stretches of the series, and Artest harnessed his wildly inconsistent jumper and hit three three-pointers.
With first lady Michelle Obama watching from a luxury box, the Lakers were on their best behavior - and the Celtics responded terribly to the chance to clinch a title.
Paul Pierce scored 13 points and Kevin Garnett 12, but the Celtics' offense was a jumbled, stand-around mess. Rajon Rondo got off to a 1-for-8 shooting start before finishing with 10 points and six assists.