LOS ANGELES So, with the Lakers trailing the New Orleans Hornets 67-61 going into the fourth quarter, and Kobe Bryant 0 for 15 from the field and scoreless for the game, what was going through the mind of the game's greatest active player?
A"I'd better hit a few shots or we're going to lose to a really bad basketball team."
B"I need to forget about shooting, get the ball down low to Pau (Gasol) and Andrew (Bynum, and let them win it for us."
C"This is pretty funny. It's entertaining to me"
If you guessed A or B, you'd be a pretty logical observerand you'd be wrong. If you guessed C, you know Kobe Bryant well.
He ended up shooting 3 for 6 in the final period and scoring eleven points, including a three pointer with 20.2 seconds left to lead the Lakers to an 88-85 come-from-behind win over the Hornets.
Bryant was all smiles when he greeted the media at his locker after the game, seemingly so happy that you'd never know the Lakers were almost embarrassed by a team which has won 19 fewer games than L.A..
"Actually, it was all scripted that way, absolutely," Bryant kidded about his struggles.
"It's a challenge, so you can't really do anything about it; you really can't hang your head about it. I was over there laughing about it with (former Laker) Trevor (Ariza) actually. We were pretty amused by it.
"In that situation, you just have to relax. You can't be out there taking yourself too seriously. Things like that happen sometimes, so you just go out there and do what you have to do.
Bryant's teammates carried him throughout most of the game, with power forward Pau Gasol, center Andrew Bynum and point guard Ramon Sessions each collecting triple-doubles. Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds; Bynum 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Sessions had 10 points and 10 assists. But they knew in order to erase a deficit that grew to as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, Bryant would have to turn back into the game's top closer.
Sessions said he never had a doubt Bryant would step up.
"That's Kobe for you," said Sessions, acquired on March 15 from Cleveland. "He was positive the whole timein the locker room at halftime and all the time on the floorand he came out and hit a big shot for us. That's what he does.
"You never lose faith in a guy who's done so much in this league. That's why he is Kobe Bryant, one of the best to ever do it, and that's why we ride him till the end."
Coach Mike Brown echoed those sentiments.
"Kobe took some great shots; had good looks," Brown said. "Normally, those shots go down for him, and if he shoots 10-21 (instead of 3 for 21) it might have been a much different game. It's ironic that he takes eight three'sand the one he makes gives us the lead.
"It's just his willpower and his ability to do great things that change the course of a game."
Bryant has made so many game-winning or game tying shots in his career that he knows he's the one who everyone is looking at to ignore the incessant pressure and make the basket.
When you make it, you're the hero; miss and it's not too pretty. But Bryant loves the thrill of being in that situation, even acknowledging his failures.
"If I would have missed that shot, everyone would have killed me," he said. "It's happened before. But I'm stubborn. You have to have that kind of attitude, that kind of determination.and that's what gets teams over the hump to win.championships."
Is that the part of his character makeup that has turned him into one of the great clutch players in the history of the NBA?
"Yeah, probably," Bryant said with same confidence he showed when hoisting up the winning three-pointer. "I've seen a lot of players run away from those types of situations. The ball's not going in, you're 0 for 15that's a steep hill."
One that Kobe Bryant keeps on climbing.