As long as the Los Angeles Lakers survive through the 2008 NBA playoffs, Empty the Bench’s West Coast correspondent Christopher Thell will be submitting a local fan’s take on his beloved Lakers’ postseason trials, tribulations and successes. In this edition: The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to the NBA Finals.
“Only a few chosen rise.”
That number encapsulates Game 5.
When Brent Barry drained a 26-foot 3-pointer with a little under two minutes elapsed in the 2nd quarter, it put the Spurs up by 17 (33-16) and it looked like the Lakers were in for a return trip to Texas – the last thing in the world they wanted to do.
When Kobe Bryant went to the charity stripe after a Tim Duncan foul and calmly drained two free throws to officially seal the deal on the Lakers series clinching 100-92 victory with 15 seconds left in the game, it was the reigning MVP’s 16th and 17th points of the 4th quarter.
That’s right, his 17th point of the quarter, giving Kobe 39 for the game to go along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
After trailing almost the entire contest until their last possession of the 3rd quarter, when the Rad Man hit a deep 3-pointer to give them a 64-63 advantage to start the final period, the Lakers never relinquished the lead.
Not that the defending champions didn’t threaten, but Kobe had the answer every time.
Kobe Bryant is an assassin in high tops, after the jump…
The Spurs came as close as 83-81 after a 3-pointer by Brent Barry and a basket by Tony Parker drew San Antonio within two. But Manu Ginobili, who struggled mightily all series outside of his big Game 3, missed a 3-pointer that could have given San Antonio the lead before, who else, Kobe nailed an 8-foot running jumper with 3:33 to play to make it 85-81.
A free throw by Duncan drew the Spurs within three, but two more baskets by Bryant made it 89-82 with 1:47 to play, and the Spurs weren’t closer than five points after that.
If you had told me opening night, a dreary Tuesday on the penultimate day of October, when the Lakers lost to Houston, 95-93, that seven months later the Lakers would be crowned Western Conference Champions after knocking off the Spurs in a mere 5 games, I would have thought you were either a raging lunatic or indulging in illegal substances.
My how things can change.
Let’s see a show of hands, my fellow Lakers fanatics: how many of you are still mad at Kobe for running Shaq off?
While The Diesel gets his fast food in Phoenix now, The Lake Show, thanks to Mr. Bryant, will be dining in Boston next weekend when the NBA Finals commence Thursday night at the TD Banknorth Garden.
What a difference a year makes.
A year to the day after going on talk radio in Los Angeles and calling the Lakers front office a mess, a prelude to his strident demand to be traded, Kobe rose up and led his team to the NBA Finals.
Thank whatever benevolent deity or deities you ascribe to that Mitch Kupchak and Jerry Buss had the balls not to cave in and meet the Black Mamba’s request, tempting as it may have been because of his petulant behavior.
Listen, I’m not going to tell you that Kobe is a great guy – Lamar Odom seems like he’d be a lot more fun to grab a beer with, but Kobe is the most superb basketball player in the universe, an assassin in high tops, and what I truly respect about him is that he not only makes the absolute most of the god given gifts he’s been blessed with (unlike so many pro athletes who take their winning ticket in the genetic lottery for granted), he has an indomitable will.
Love him or hate him, in your heart of hearts, admit that you wish you could live your life the way Kobe Bean Bryant plays basketball.
Only a few chosen rise, indeed.
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