Kobe Bryant's brilliance produces another comeback win for Lakers, 118-116

March 9, 2013

"Are we in the playoffs yet?"

That question had to be racing through Kobe Bryant’s mind as the final buzzer sounded at Staples Center Friday night.

Just moments earlier he had won yet another game for the Lakers, scoring the game-winning basket on an emphatic dunk, after having first sent the game into overtime earlier with 15 fourth-quarter points.

Kobe seemingly couldn’t stand up. His overjoyed teammates embraced him, but he couldn’t return the sentiment. He was locked in a fatigued, hunched over position with his hands on his knees, looking like he had just completed a marathon of impossible proportions. His body language was that of a man absolutely consumed by exhaustion, but not bereft of will.

Just two nights ago in New Orleans, on the second night of a back-to-back, he logged 42 minutes of game time and finished with 41 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds, leading the Lakers to victory after being down by 25.

Friday night? Nearly 44 minutes, 41 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds.

This time the Lakers found themselves down 19 in the first half, plagued by what has become their trademark, if not defining, characteristic this season: lazy defense.

The Raptors scored 37 in the first quarter and continued to torch the Lakers throughout the game on basic give-and-go's, backdoor cuts, and other simple basketball plays where they just out hustled the purple and gold.

It had the appearance of a devastating letdown game for a Lakers team coming off of such a momentous win in New Orleans, especially with the playoffs now looming only 19 games away.

But if we’ve learned any one particular thing about the Lakers over the past few years, it’s that Kobe Bryant’s will to win is extraordinary. He’s clutch. He’s masterful. He’s a basketball genius. But most of all, it’s his will to win that has made him Kobe Bryant.

That will kicked in with 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and what resulted was yet another stunning display of Kobe’s clutch basketball wizardry, in dramatic fashion, as always.

With the Lakers down 5 and just under 2 minutes left, Kobe had the ball on the right wing, a few feet behind the three-point line, with the Raptors' Alan Anderson defending him. He pump faked once, twice, and at this point was guarded so closely he might as well have been wearing Anderson’s jersey. Unperturbed, Kobe leaned into Anderson, rose up, and made an impossible fade away three from about 30 feet.

About a minute later, the Lakers were down 4 with 30 seconds left. Kobe caught an inbounds pass in the corner, and in one motion rose up and nailed another three-pointer while fading out of bounds.

Next, with eight seconds left, the Lakers found themselves down by three and calling upon Kobe’s number once again to bail them out.

Kobe managed to split through two defenders before proceeding to catch the inbounds pass, pump-fake once, and nail another deep three-pointer, sending the game into overtime.

With 22 seconds left in overtime, the game was tied again, and who else but Kobe had the ball. This time he went around a double team and went straight to the rim, emphatically dunking and finally winning the game for the Lakers.

It shouldn’t be overlooked what Steve Nash and Dwight Howard contributed, as they were instrumental in the win. Nash scored 22 and Howard had 24 points and 13 rebounds. However, in the waning moments, it was ultimately another tall order for Bryant and, as usual, he delivered a victory.

He’s stated that this has been the most difficult season he’s experienced, mostly because he thought he would have to do less than he’s ever had, and as its turned out, he’s had to do a lot more at times.

But those are the circumstances he's been given, and his will to win has accordingly elevated to perhaps a higher level than we’ve ever witnessed. He’s defying biology as a 34-year-old who has played in over 1400 NBA games, yet is  having one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Most importantly, he’s revived a once-catastrophic Lakers team and has them on pace to sneak into the playoffs as the 8th seed.

And that’s all that matters, because if they can get in, with the talent they have, who knows what can happen?

All they know is what they’ve always known: They’ll have the unyielding will of the Black Mamba on their side.

Nevertheless, Kobe's will to win also has been dealt early playoff exits in the past. But to miss the playoffs altogether? With the likes of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash at his disposal?

Kobe made one thing clear Friday night:

Not on my watch.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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