The final score of the second part of TNT’s opening day doubleheader last night may have read “Lakers 96, (overhyped) Trail Blazers 76,” but the real story of this game was told with 9:06 left to play in the third quarter.
As expected, the Lakers had been thoroughly dominating the over-matched Blazers from the opening tip before taking a 49-34 lead into recess. But, it had nothing to do with Greg Oden and everything to do with his backup, Joel Przybilla.
Portland had found a way to claw back to within eight points at 49-41 in the first couple of minutes back on the floor. The score was deceiving, but it was what it was: Blazers’ ball with a chance to cut what was once a 22-point lead to six, maybe five.
Travis Outlaw missed a three for Portland, and the teams went back the other way. And that’s when Przybilla did something he should not have done under any circumstances.
He ticked off the Mamba.
The Blazers’ backup center collided with Kobe Bryant, who drew the charge after a physical play. What resulted was Przybilla purposely bumping into Bryant and trying to run his shoulder into the Lakers’ superstar after the whistle had been called.
If you’re just a casual fan watching this game, you had to be asking this question again and again in your head, maybe even aloud, as you saw this transpire: Who the hell is Joel Przybilla?
It was enough to get the Mamba going, as Bryant answered with a three-pointer to make it an 11-point Lakers advantage. Bryant stuck another shot 27 seconds later to make it 54-41, made four free throws, and stuck another jumper in Portland’s grill over the next four minutes of play.
And when it was all said and done, the Blazers, down by eight in what seemed like just a brief moment ago, were down by 17 points, 60-43.
That was all she wrote, and the only thing to worry about after that was driving home safely in the Los Angeles night.
What’s even more telling is that Bryant only had six points in the game up to that point. With the young Blazers, a team who was known to always scrap and claw with even superior competition until the very, very end – still hanging around despite having controversy regarding Oden’s departure from the game still surrounding them. Przybilla’s “nudge” set the Mamba off, so much so that he scored 17 of his 23 points from that point on.
But, statistics really don’t matter in this story. All you really have to know is that little moment in time preceding the middle of the third quarter when Przybilla thought that he could do something about physically imposing his will on Bryant, and somehow get into the head of the Association’s best player.
Just a few minutes later, the Blazers might as well have started boarding their plane back to Oregon.