Lamar Odom had 16 points and 13 rebounds and reserve point guard Jordan Farmar had 12 points and seven assists in place of the suspended Derek Fisher, who was ejected from Game 2 for a hard hit on Luis Scola when he set a pick.
Game 3 had no signs of the rough play that turned testy in Game 2 until the final minute, when Houston's Ron Artest was ejected for a hard foul on Pau Gasol. Artest was ejected from Game 2 for a verbal altercation with Bryant following Bryant's elbow to Artest's upper chest.
"I don't think that was a flagrant, maybe a flagrant one," Bryant said of Artest's ejection. "That rule is so all over the place, it's hard to judge. I'm an '80s baby, so that's just two shots and let's go."
Artest had 25 points and Yao Ming added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets but he was bothered by a lower left leg injury in the final minutes and was limping as he left the court.
The Lakers snapped the Rockets' nine-game home winning streak.
Game 4 is Sunday in Houston.
The Rockets trailed 50-48 at halftime, then missed 15 of their first 19 shots in the third quarter.
"We had to get stops," Bryant said. "When they started desperation plays we were not able to get stops. In the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we started to get stops and it sustained us."
Bryant had a quiet third quarter until the final 3 seconds, when he took an inbounds pass, dribbled away from Artest and swished a straight-on 33-footer at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 74-62 lead. He struck a frozen pose at midcourt after another signature shot, silencing the capacity crowd that booed him every time he touched the ball.
"I missed some easy shots at the rim, they just didn't go down for me," Bryant said. "I had to pull the string on that 3-pointer."
Early in the fourth quarter, Houston's Von Wafer jumped into Sasha Vujacic on a 3-point try and hit the floor. Players from both teams rushed over, but Wafer defused a potential confrontation by walking away. Wafer made three free throws to cut Houston's deficit to 81-71.
Artest muscled inside for a layup and Yao dunked to pull the Rockets within 90-84 by the 4-minute mark. Farmar sank a baseline jumper with 3:54 to boost the lead back to eight.
Yao missed a baseline shot with 3 minutes left and Bryant beat the shot clock with another 3 with 2:21 left for a 95-84 that virtually put it away.
Los Angeles pushed the tempo from the start.
Odom dunked an alley-oop pass from Trevor Ariza 9 seconds into the game and Bryant hit a 3-pointer a minute later to pass Larry Bird and move into sixth place on the all-time postseason scoring list.
Los Angeles led 30-28 heading to the second quarter, notable because the team leading after the first period had won all of Houston's eight previous playoff games.
The first sign of the chippy play that marred Game 2 came midway through the second quarter, when Luke Walton was called for a technical foul for nonchalantly kicking the ball after knocking down Kyle Lowry.
Bryant went 5 for 6 from the field and had 11 points in the first quarter, then missed six of seven shots in the second. The Rockets slowed the pace, got to the free-throw line more and took a 46-43 lead.
But Houston had 11 turnovers in the first half - two in the final 90 seconds - and the Lakers were up two at the half.
Notes@: The Rockets had a 56-43 edge in rebounding. ... Yao recorded his sixth straight double-double. ... Bryant has 3,928 career points in the postseason. Former Laker Jerry West is ahead of him on the list with 4,457. ... Rockets G Tracy McGrady, who had season-ending surgery on his left knee on Feb. 24, sat on the bench.
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