Kobe Bryant finally displayed that signature performance everyone was waiting for in these NBA Finals, the one where he single-handedly took over the game with one exhilarating shot after another.
Article continues below ...
Bryant scored his team’s final four points of the first half and then came out and finally imposed his will on the NBA Finals, with 19 consecutive Lakers’ points in the third quarter.
There were picturesque jumpers, deep 3-pointers and even an acrobatic tip-in off an alley-oop pass.
It was one of those dominant stretches that conjured up memories of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.
Bryant did it with an array of moves, primarily in the third quarter, against a trio of rotating Boston defenders. It began with a gorgeous fadeaway over Boston’s Ray Allen from deep along the right baseline and was capped off with a difficult move in the lane over Allen and teammate Paul Pierce.
"I would say it was the toughest shot I have ever seen somebody hit while I was on the court,” Pierce said following the Celtics’ 92-86 win in Game 5. "It was like everything was – he was shooting fadeaway 3s, fadeaway jumpers off the double-team.”
There was only one problem.
Bryant’s teammates forgot to show up.
Andrew Bynum’s knee forced the big man into becoming a non-factor, with the 7-footer pulling down just a single rebound in more than 31 minutes of action. Pau Gasol reverted back to the old Pau, the one who was clearly intimidated by Kevin Garnett a couple years ago on this identical stage.
"He’s been consistent for us for a while, so he can afford to have a bad game every once in a while,” Bryant said.
Not with Ron Artest yet again irrelevant on the offensive end and the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, also appearing old and worn down on the defensive side of the ball, unable to contain Pierce. Derek Fisher, he who welcomes the moment, was scoreless in the second half. Lamar Odom, was well, Lamar Odom – the ultimate tease who never quite lives up to the expectations surrounding his potential.
While the Lakers quickly turned into a one-man circus act – and it was entertaining to watch – in Sunday night’s loss to Boston in Game 5, the Celtics showed they have too many bullets.
Pierce finished with 27 points in his most effective performance of the series, Garnett (18 points, 10 boards) was more active than he’s been for much of the season and Rajon Rondo went for 18 points and eight assists.
The team effort culminated in Boston’s victory – which sends the Celtics out to Los Angeles with a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series and just one win away from clinching their second NBA title in the last three years.
Doc Rivers’ team will now get two shots out on the west coast to wrap it up – and the Celtics have proven they can win away from home, both in the regular season and also in the playoffs.
They have also proven they can take Bryant’s best shots – and still come out on top.
"I love that our guys for the most part, they held it in, they understood what he was doing,” Rivers said. "But we defended everyone else, and I thought it was big.”
Pierce had struggled through much of the series, but made Artest look like a mediocre defender on Sunday night. Garnett may not have matched his offensive production in Game 3, but he played a superior all-around game.
Rondo has outplayed his counterpart, Fisher, in four of the five games in the series and while Ray Allen only finished with a dozen points, he was still the fourth Celtics player to manage double figures.
The Lakers were completely reliant on Kobe – to score, to set up his teammates and even to provide the role as the defensive stopper since Artest was unable to do so.
Bryant did his part, but it just wasn’t enough.
"I’ve forgotten about it,” Bryant said when asked about the loss after the game.
At least Bryant – unlike his teammates – had a clue what happened.