With chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” in the background, Kobe Bean Bryant finally lived up to his top billing as Hollywood’s No. 1 superstar. With 6:55 left in Game 3 and his Los Angeles Lakers trailing the Boston Celtics, 66-68, he stood at the top of the 3-point rainbow, hesitated for a split second, eyed the target, then fired. The orange Spalding ball—swirling on air at the Staples Center—swooshed into the net. Minutes later, with his team quivering on the brink of falling 0-3—an impossible task that no team in NBA history has overcome—Kobe lifted his arms to an 87-81 win. Never mind missing seven of 18 free throws, he scored 10 points in that 4th quarter to finish with 36.
Not known to many, Kobe now moves one point away from taking the fourth spot for the most postseason points in Lakers franchise history. His 3,622 postseason points is one less Elgin Baylor’s and only 79 points away from the No. 3 spot—held by Magic Johnson (3,701 points). The second spot is held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (4,070) and the No. 1 rank by Jerry West at 4,457. If the NBA Finals goes back to Boston, look for Kobe to surpass Magic.
“What I tried to do with my teammates is just stay calm,” said Kobe. “It wasn’t the end of the world. They did a great job of defending home court. We knew we had to come here and do the same. They feed off of my confidence and I have all the confidence in the world that we can come here and win.”
Confidence. Kobe has it. MVPs possess it. And with him taking the starring role in this city of superstars called Hollywood, his teammates feed off his confidence.
“I think undoubtedly it’s the leadership of Kobe Bryant,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “He was aggressive right from the start, put the defense on its heels.”
We all knew that Kobe was the key to a Lakers win. And when he didn’t perform as well in Games 1 and 2, the result was obvious: they lost.
Another player helped L.A. win. Phil Jackson calls him “a rockhead” while the Lakers’ broadcasters name him “The Machine.” Sasha Vujacic scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, was 3-of-5 on 3-pointers—including a 3-pointer with 1:53 left that gave the Lakers an 81-76 lead.
“Kobe was fantastic,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “but I thought Vujacic was the key to the game.”
The Boston Celtics? With their vaunted “Big Three,” only one showed up: Ray Allen, who scored 25 points—15 on 3-pointers. Kevin Garnett shot just 6-of-21 to finish with 13 points while Paul Pierce missed 12 attempts and only scored six points.
“As bad as we played, we still had opportunities,” said Allen. “That’s the positive. We can look at it, but I don’t think on either side of the floor we were good. We had so much more room for improvement.”
Ray Allen’s right. The Celtics did not live up to their potential—to their level of Games 1 and 2—but almost won the game. Remember, with less than seven minutes left in the game, the Celtics led.
Until Kobe fired that rainbow 3-pointer…
So, what happens next? Game 4 is tomorrow, Friday, 9 a.m. (RP time). The good news for Lakers fans is this: the blue-and-gold team are 9-0 at the Staples Center in the playoffs and unbeaten in 15 games since March 28. Undefeated since March 28? That’s almost three-and-a-half months ago.
I’d pick L.A. to win again tomorrow and level the series to 2-all. Which makes this heart-pounding. Why? Because plenty of betting will happen, I’m sure. And the momentum—that all-important word in sports—is on the Lakers side. Plus, with that confidence and those cheerleaders dancing and the 18,997 fans stomping their feet—what if the Lakers win three-in-a-row to lead 3-2?
Now that will be a moment to watch. But I’m getting ahead of myself…..
Tomorrow, on to Episode 4 of that Hollywood blockbuster!