After acting like more of a decoy throughout the first quarter of game five, Kobe Bryant didn’t look physically capable of staying with Trevor Ariza. He hobbled around on the court, didn’t look for his own shot and let Ariza have his way with him, driving past him on command scoring 10 points on four-for-four shooting.
It wasn’t until Bryant fouled Ariza as he was driving toward the basket. It was a foul that Bryant thought would result in the Hornets getting the ball out of bounds, instead the referees ruled it a continuation, as Ariza never put the ball back on the floor.
Ariza may have gotten the three-point play, but Bryant got the best of the Hornets from then on.
Still livid over the previous play, on the Lakers next possession Bryant drove the lane and threw down a commanding dunk over the Hornets’ Emeka Okafor. The dunk was vintage Kobe, came completely out of nowhere and was exactly what the rest of the team needed to be reminded that they had an inherent advantage over the Hornets, no matter how great Chris Paul is.
“I just had a lane to the basket. It looked like [Okafor] was going to challenge me at the rim, and I accepted the challenge,” he said. “It’s [was] a message for us that this is important. It’s time to rise up and do what we’ve got to do. They know I save those. I don’t have [many] of those left.”
Bryant might have related his abrupt show of athleticism as a desire to not back down from the challenging Okafor, but it was essentially symbolic in that it showed Bryant’s reluctance to back down from any opponent, let alone a team they out-matched in every possible category sans the point guard position. Even at that, Derek Fisher ended with a solid contribution in the Lakers win and helped contain Paul to only 20 points and 12 assists.
I know what you’re thinking, 20 points and 12 assists is considered keeping a guy at bay? In Paul’s case it is.
If Bryant, ailing with an ankle injury that by his own demand hasn’t even been properly diagnosed, could sour over Okafor and throw the ball down as hard as he did, then certainly the rest of the team could find something within to push the Hornets to the brink.
And push them they did.
Next: Lakers get going after Bryant puts down the gauntlet
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