Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 38 points as the Los Angeles Lakers held off a late fightback by the Denver Nuggets to win 104-100 on Tuesday and take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference quarter-final series.
The Lakers, who had overpowered their opponents 103-88 in the series opener on Sunday, briefly led by 19 points with All-Star Bryant in sizzling form, before the Nuggets clawed their way back to trail by just four with a little under two minutes left.
However, point guard Ramon Sessions gave the home team some welcome breathing space with a floating jump shot to put Los Angeles 100-94 ahead and they held on to maintain control in the best-of-seven series.
Sessions finished with 14 points, while seven-footers Andrew -Bynum and Pau Gasol weighed in with 27 and 13 points respectively in front of a sell-out crowd at the Staples Center.
Guard Ty Lawson led the way for the fast-paced, but relatively inexperienced Nuggets with 25 points, while forward Kenneth Faried contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Lakers made a fast start, back-to-back slam dunks by Bynum putting them 12-3 up early in the first quarter and prompting applause from Hollywood actor Jack Nicholson as he stood up from his courtside seat.
Though the Nuggets leveled the score at 36-36 midway through the second period, Los Angeles pulled away with an unbroken 9-0 run inspired by Bryant to lead 55-48 at halftime.
With Bryant producing a dazzling array of fade-away jump shots and twisting drives to the basket, the Lakers surged 19 points clear before ending the third quarter 81-74 ahead.
The Nuggets, who outrebounded the Lakers 52-48, refused to buckle and trimmed the deficit to 98-94 with a late 17-7 run before Sessions and then Bryant, with two free throws, made the game safe for Los Angeles.
While the towering Bynum was repeatedly double-teamed by Denver after recording a superb triple-double in Game 1, Bryant took advantage of the extra space available to him in offense.
Former England soccer captain David Beckham, accompanied by his wife Victoria, watched Tuesday’s action on the eve of his 37th birthday.
76ERS 109, BULLS 92
Jrue Holiday scored 26 points and Lou Williams added 20 as -Philadelphia beat Chicago 109-92 on Tuesday night to level their first-round playoff series in the Bulls’ first game since Derrick Rose’s -season-ending knee injury.
The point guard received a standing ovation and waved to the crowd as he limped onto the court to present the game ball, then watched from the stands as the 76ers outscored Chicago 36-14 in the third quarter to take an 83-69 lead.
Game 3 is tomorrow in Philadelphia.
Holiday was 11 of 15 from the field, and the Sixers shot 59 percent overall. Evan Turner chipped in with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 21 points and eight rebounds, while John Lucas III scored 15 points.
Rose missed 27 games during the regular season because of a -variety of injuries, and the Bulls went 18-9 in those games.
CELTICS 87, HAWKS 80
In Atlanta, Georgia, Paul Pierce had 36 points and 14 rebounds as Boston wiped out Atlanta’s 11-point lead in the second half even without point guard Rajon Rondo.
The series is level at 1-1. Game 3 is tomorrow night in Boston, and Rondo will be back for that one having sat out a one-game suspension for bumping an official in the opener.