By Dennis J. Freeman
Kobe Bryant aka the Black Mamba strikes again. When Bryant gets lathered up like he did after Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns it’s a good bet he’s coming out to take charge the next game.
And he did. Bryant, the Lakers resident-in-house superstar, torched Phoenix with another jaw-dropping performance, scoring 30 points, snatching 11 rebounds and handing out nine assists in a pivotal Game 5 performance Thursday night at STAPLES Center.
Bryant scored 13 of his 30 points in the first quarter, setting a tone for the Lakers, as he has done all season, that playtime is over. The Lakers would need all of those 30 points and a little bit extra in this game as Phoenix rallied from a 17-point first half deficit to tie the game at 101 with 3.5 seconds left in the contest after Jason Richardson knocked down a 3-point shot. Phoenix’s problem was that they left too much time on the clock.
Considering that the Lakers have a rich history of executing and making game-winning shots that was a bad omen for Phoenix who outscored Los Angeles 29-25 in the final quarter. Bryant’s heave from behind the three-point arc was straight but fell short of its goal of reaching the basket, turning into an airball attempt.
But Bryant and the Lakers received the biggest reprieve they’ve had in this postseason when Ron Artest grabbed the ball and banked in the game-winning shot with the clock struck at zero. Game over.
“I could see him coming,” Bryant said. “I felt I had a good look. Grant Hill stuck his hand in there in the last second, forced me to double-pump. Other than that I was going to shoot over Steve (Nash). And once I released the ball, I saw Ron streaking in. I was just hoping he got it off in time.”
For his part, Artest said his aggressive play over the final two quarters of the game carried over to the Lakers’ last possession, which ended up giving Los Angeles a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Just gotta continue to play,” Artest said. “I was kind of not playing my game from the beginning of the game, and It kind of carried over. So in the second half, I was finding my way a little bit, made some good passes and good steals and got some tough rebounds. So I guess that aggressive play can carry over into that last possession.”
Photo courtesy of Zsanae Davis