CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — This was more like the Kobe Bryant the Los Angeles Lakers are accustomed to seeing.
Bryant, who is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and still learning to trust his legs, was back to making big shots down the stretch and helping his team win Saturday night — although in a somewhat tentative manner.
"I don't know what I can and can't do," Bryant said. "I'm just trying to measure it. I didn't know if I could drive to the basket. Every game has been like that."
Bryant took a big step in the right direction, scoring a season-high 21 points to help the Lakers defeat the Charlotte Bobcats 88-85 for their first win since Bryant returned four games ago.
Bryant was 8 of 15 from the field and hit two free throws with 37 seconds left in the game to put the Lakers ahead for good.
Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill had 15 points apiece for the Lakers and Nick Young had 13 points off the bench.
Kemba Walker had 24 points and eight assists for the slumping Bobcats, who have lost three straight and five of their last seven.
"I knew it was coming eventually, it's not a big deal," Bryant said of getting his first win of the season. "We know it's a marathon not a sprint. We have to do the right things game in, game out. Some games you're going to lose."
Bryant averaged 11 points in his first three games.
He eclipsed that by halftime.
Bryant showed his touch when he banked in a 15-footer over Gerald Henderson and his range when he stepped out to knock down a 3-pointer from 26 feet. But there were some struggles as well. Bryant committed seven turnovers and air-balled a 3-pointer.
But he did enough to help the Lakers win.
"I think he improved a little bit," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I think he got his legs under his shot a little bit and that looked better. He got tired. He got tired toward the end and it was his first back-to-back. There's a lot of things that he has to work through.
"We have to somehow find some wins and gut it out. It's not pretty right now. We don't have a playmaker and we've got to get guys healthy and get Kobe well."
The Lakers trailed most of the game, but cut the lead to 85-84 when Bryant drove the lane and scored a left-handed layup with 1:22 remaining.
Al Jefferson and Walker would both miss on the other end and Bryant went to work looking to take the lead. He drew a foul on a jump shot with 37 seconds left and hit both free throws with some of the crowd chanting "M-V-P" while others booed.