CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers teammates took showers, changed, handled their media responsibility and exited the locker room rather quickly, all with smiles on their faces over a 20-point comeback win that will surely go down as one of the greatest in the season to date.
Ten minutes passed as only Dwight Howard remained. Then the Mamba finally showed up, with the Kobe scowl seemingly inscribed into his face. No smiles, none of the jovial nature his teammates had displayed 20 minutes prior.
“Just irritated, very irritated. That’s all,” Bryant said.
It was a scene similar to the Lakers’ performance on the floor Friday night. For an entire half, Kobe Bryant was nowhere to be found, going scoreless in the first half. It was almost as if he were out there to make a point that he could get his teammates involved and didn’t have to be the offensive focal point, taking only two shots.
But then, just as he had emerged from the showers well after his teammates, Bryant came alive in the second half, totaling 20 points and six assists in the final 24 minutes to erase a 20-point deficit and finish off a 100-93 win over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.
“He just had that look in his eye,” Antawn Jamison said. “He did a great job of trying to get guys involved in the first half and being the facilitator. And that’s what we need. Then, as the game goes along and gets closer, the Mamba needs to come out, and he did that tonight.”
What seemed like an unimaginable loss for the Bobcats a month and half before, blowing a 18-point, second-half lead in Los Angeles, was re-enacted 3,000 miles away.
After the Lakers cut it to nine after three quarters and with his team struggling to score, Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap made a curious decision, choosing to play a lineup of four guards with Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson and Ben Gordon on the floor at the same time, thinking that might spark his team offensively. Sessions was tasked with guarding Bryant, who frequently took him to the low block for buckets or trips to the foul line.
“We had those guys almost the whole game, and they just made a really good run,” Walker said. “Kobe made all the good plays and made all the right passes. They just made shots.”
The “MVP” chants rained down from a predominantly purple and gold Lakers crowd as Bryant scored 14 in the final period, tying the game with 5 minutes left.
The time it took to erase a 20-point lead? A mere 12 minutes.
Two Bryant free throws with a minute and half left would put the Lakers up for good as the refs made a questionable no-call on a driving Sessions with a minute left before Bryant ended it with a dagger, falling-away, driving bucket just seconds later on the other end.
“This is the NBA. Once you have your foot on the throat, you should put them away, but they didn’t,” Howard said. “And we got back in the game.”
The Bobcats not only had their foot on the throat. They had their foot on the Lakers’ season. This would have been a titanic loss for the Lakers after getting embarrassed a night before in Boston, but somehow Bryant found a way to stop the leak. As coach Mike D’Antoni put it: “We live to fight another day.”
The Lakers looked like a team starting three players on the tail ends of their careers in the first half, appearing lifeless. The Bobcats took it to them in the open court, scoring 14 fast-break points to the Lakers’ two and forcing 11 Lakers turnovers, racing out to a 12-point halftime lead behind 14 first-half points from Byron Mullens.
“(The Bobcats) push the tempo and try to get out in transition,” Bryant said. “But honestly it was really about us, in the way we played and the type of energy we brought (to start).”
Howard was back for his second game from his torn labrum, and made his presence felt much more in the second half, especially on the defensive end, finishing the night with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. It was a balanced effort for the Lakers, with Steve Nash pitching in with 17 points and seven assists, the ever-improving Earl Clark adding 17 points and 10 rebounds, and both Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks in double figures.
Now the Lakers head to Miami to face the defending champs, hoping to end their seven-game road streak 5-2.
“We know what they’re capable of,” Jamison said. ” The challenge for us is we can’t come out and do the things that we did early in the game tonight as far as not playing with energy, turnovers, giving our opponents easy opportunities in transition. If we can limit those opportunities and get them in the halfcourt, then I think we should be fine.”