The Los Angeles Lakers assembled a dynamic rostering entering the 2003-04 season, with what turned out to be four future Hall-of-Famers teaming up. However, the journey throughout the season turned into a catastrophe, filled with injuries and unforeseen external events getting in the way of basketball.
However, the likes Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal demonstrated many times that their talent was great enough to carry the Lakers to victory. That was particularly true for Bryant on Dec. 19, 2003, against Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets.
Bryant wouldn’t arrive at Staples Center until there were four minutes left in the first quarter, as he was working with his legal team for an appearance in a Colorado courtroom.
By halftime, the Lakers had opened up a 57-47 lead over the Nuggets, with a complete performance from their team.
The Nuggets made an all-out run before the game was about to end, as a double-digit deficit was trimmed to just four points. From there, both teams would go back-and-forth until O’Neal’s missed free throws and a Gary Payton missed layup allowed the Nuggets to tie the game at 99.
The Lakers had an opportunity for the final, shot however. Bryant received the ball from Devean George and drove to his left. He then used a pump fake to get defender Jon Barry off his feet, gathering himself and rising up to knock down the game-winner at the buzzer.
With that shot, the Lakers claimed a 101-99 victory, and Bryant knocked down his fifth and final basket of the night. The entire game was an oddity for him as it marked his first game off the bench since the 1999 season.
Showing up to support his teammates via a late flight, Bryant was able to contribute in a big way. O’Neal also chipped in 26 points, on 8-for-11 shooting, including 10-for-17 from the free throw line.
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