Every once in a while, Kobe Bryant gets into the kind of rhythm that only the best of the best ever reach … In any sport.
It’s like when Tiger Woods has his driver, wedges and putter locked in at the same time; when a baseball looks like a beach ball to Manny Ramirez; when Ronaldinho gathers the ball amidst six or seven defenders and zigs and zags through hopeless leg flailing en route to a goal.
That’s Mamba mode.
Tuesday night at STAPLES Center, Kobe emerged in an absurd quarter during which he hit his first seven shots before missing a contested jumper, and finally nailed his fourth three to go 8-of-9 for the period. Each of his nine shots came from the perimeter, each was contested and not one was within 18 feet.
After the game reached its conclusion, Lakers video assistant Patrick O’Keefe hooked us up with a DVD of the game, so I could break down Kobe’s 12 minutes shot-by-shot. By the way, in case you missed the game, Mamba’s third quarter explosion came on the heels of his swished 38-foot heave at the halftime buzzer.
Third Quarter, Lakers vs. Hornets: Kobe Bryant
Shot Attempt No. 1 (11:17) – Bryant makes 22-foot jumper
Coming off a half pick from Andrew Bynum, Bryant curls around Rasual Butler, steps back from just in front of the three-point line and swished the J. 63-58 Hornets.
No. 2 (10:51) – Bryant makes 19-foot jumper
Bynum collects a defensive rebound at the other end and gives Kobe the ball at L.A.’s free throw line. Bryant dribbles up the wing, uses another pick from Bynum on Butler to skirt up the sideline, then pulls up on Tyson Chandler. Bucket. 63-60 Hornets.
No. 3 (8:02) – Bryant makes 18-foot jumper, Pau Gasol assists
Kobe comes through underneath around a back pick from Vladimir Radmanovic, takes a hand off from Gasol, steps back and floats the shot over David West and Butler. 75-69 Hornets, who had led by as many as eight.
No. 4 (7:09) – Bryant makes 26-foot three-point jumper
Kobe rebounds West’s miss, dribbles up the near sideline, crosses over once and pulls up from deep to swish a high-arching shot over Butler. 77-72 Hornets.
No. 5 (5:56) – Bryant makes 28-foot three-point jumper
On the only shot that doesn’t go straight in (with the exception of his miss, obviously), Bryant uses a top-of-the-key Gasol pick on Butler, but Butler goes over the pick and stays on Kobe’s hip. Mamba pulls up anyway, from a few feet beyond the line, and sees the ball deflect off the front rim, bounce high off the back rim, juggle around both sides of the rim and finally go down. After the shot, just like the last triple, Kobe looks to the refs for a foul call after feeling like he was hit on the arm. 77-75 Hornets.
No. 6 (5:35) – Bryant makes 27-foot three-point jumper, Gasol assists
His third straight three on L.A.’s third straight possession helps keep pace with a Hornets’ team that hadn’t stopped scoring itself. Bryant this time uses a Fisher screen of Butler, takes a handoff from Gasol and pulls up while running to his left. Cash. 80-78 Hornets.
No. 7 (4:26) – Bryant makes 19-foot jumper
Bryant uses another Bynum pick of poor Rasual Butler, dribbles to his right, pulls up from just inside the three-point line and swishes again for point number 34. 83-82 Hornets.
No. 8 (0:54) – Bryant misses 19-foot jumper
Bryant had turned into a facilitator for a few minutes, finding a wide-open Radmanovic for a three (miss), using a double-team again to find Fisher for another three (make) and finally pulling up in transition to fake a triple, then feeding to Gasol brilliantly for a dunk and an 89-83 Lakers lead. If those few minutes were enough to take him out of a rhythm, he finally misses a shot with West contesting, after West switched with Posey off a Gasol screen.
No. 9 (0:35) – Bryant makes 27-foot three-point jumper, Bynum assists
He wasn’t going out with a miss … With Posey draped to him a few feet away from the near sideline, Bryant tosses the ball to nearby Bynum, whom Posey turns to, taking his gave off Bryant. So Kobe steps back, gets the ball back from ‘Drew and strokes a three, just for good measure.
Throw in Kobe’s three assists, two on Fisher threes, and Bryant accounted for 28 of L.A.’s 36 points to give his team a three-point lead after it had trailed by as many as eight in the quarter.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they wouldn’t be able to get back into any kind of offensive rhythm after Kobe took over the third, and West and CP3 would miss nary a shot to emerge from STAPLES with a victory.
But yet and still, it’s fun to watch, and document, greatness when it happens right in front of you. That’s certainly what Kobe provided in the third quarter.