LOS ANGELES (AFP) - With a lead slipping away again, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant showed his younger team-mates how to put away a National Basketball Association game.
Bryant, 37 and heading into retirement after this season, drained three three-pointers in the final six minutes and seven seconds, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 99-96 victory over the Pelicans in New Orleans.
Although the shots sounded the death-knell for the Pelicans, they were greeted by cheers from fans, who like their counterparts around the country have greeted Bryant like one of their own during a season that has turned into a farewell tour.
Bryant, who scored a season-high 38 in a win at Minnesota on Tuesday, has lately given those adoring fans a glimpse of past glories.
"He's on a nice little roll," said Lakers coach Byron Scott. "Our young guys are still so young they don't understand when you've got a double-digit lead you can't relax. Not in this league."
The Lakers led 85-73 with 8min and 32sec to play, but the Pelicans scored six straight points to trim the deficit.
Bryant's three-pointer with 5min and 40sec to play rebuilt the Lakers' lead to 88-79 and they were up 95-86 with 2min and 50sec remaining - helped by Pelicans forward Anthony Davis' miss of a wide-open dunk.
New Orleans had pulled within 95-92 when Bryant nailed a three-pointer with just under a minute left to make it 98-92.
Once more the Pelicans cut the deficit to two points, but Bryant made a last free-throw to complete the scoring.
"Obviously, Kobe's leading by example - how to step on people's necks when you have a chance to," Scott said.