Kobe Bryant is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of sports. His supporters worship him, citing his unparalleled work ethic, desire, and willingness to take big shots no matter what the consequences. His detractors claim that those very traits cause him to be selfish and stubborn, keeping him a step below Michael, Magic, Larry, and Bill Russell on the Mount Rushmore of NBA legends.
Tonight, as the Lakers climbed back into the game against the desperate Denver Nuggets, we saw the best and worst of Kobe Bryant.
With his team trailing late in the game, Kobe knocked down three consecutive three-pointers, the last heavily contested, to bring his team within two points with just under a minute left. The shots were courageous and cold-blooded, leaving Kobe supporters no choice but to curse Henry Abbott and his band of merry stat geeks yet again.
After an Andre Miller miss, Kobe had the ball once again with thirty seconds left. He resisted the gripping temptation to hoist up another three, drove to the lane, and took an incredibly high-percentage shot (at least for Kobe) but watched it rim out. He took the right shot. It wasn’t forced. It just didn’t go in.
The Lakers fouled and, after Al Harrington sank one of two free throws, the Lakers had possession trailing by three with 28 seconds left.
The common thinking in this scenario is to get a quick two-point basket. There’s plenty of time left on the clock, so why not cut the lead to one and hope the other team misses a free throw or two? A three is always in the cards, but only if it’s wide open and in the flow of the offense. Otherwise you take the two and extend the game.
Kobe got the ball, as he always does in these situations, behind the three-point line. He dribbled back and forth behind the line, looking up at the clock, and that’s when we all knew what was going to happen. If you’ve ever watched Kobe Bryant play, you know that look.
It’s that “F*** you, Jobu—I’ll do it myself” moment that Kobe tends to have in crunch time. Add to the situation the fact that he had just missed a two-pointer after making three straight threes, and it was inevitable. Indeed, Bryant threw up his signature multiple head fakes and fired up a wild three—and this time it rimmed out.
This is exactly the kind of thing that Kobe “haters” point to (anybody who criticizes anything Kobe does is immediately dubbed a “Kobe hater” for some reason), when they make their arguments. All Kobe had to do was dribble around his defender, get into the lane, or (God forbid) pass the ball to one of his seven-footers to get a quick basket.
Instead, he attempted to play the hero but instead put the Lakers in a huge hole.
As it turns out, Ty Lawson missed a free throw, Ramon Sessions made a huge three, and the Lakers actually ended up with a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. Once again Kobe shot a three—had he made it maybe we’re not even talking about this—but he missed and all we are left to think about is how he decreased the Lakers’ chances of winning by hoisting up an ill-advised three a few possessions earlier.
But that’s Kobe, for better or for worse. He’s going to shoot that three when you only need a two. Sometimes he’ll make it, the Lakers will win, and he’ll be a hero.
But sometimes he’ll miss, and his team will be forced to travel to a hostile Denver environment and win a tough Game 6. If they don’t, we’ll be looking at yet another Game 7 at Staples Center.
And if it’s close in the final moments, you can count on the same old Kobe to show up.