Kobe Bryant executes game winners to near-perfection
Every time Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hits a game-winning shot, that always brings up a valid excuse to re-watch his clutch performances. With his game-winning three-pointer in the Lakers' 99-98 victory Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies marking the sixth time he'd done such a thing this season, any subsequent game winner through the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs will eventually result in Lakers fans memorizing the highlight reels that follow.
It's never a bad thing to relive those moments and wax nostalgic over a memorable game. But eventually there's the possibility that fans could eventually become numb to them and think what Bryant does is simply ordinary. So to provide some proper perspective, I also included the team's potential game winners that didn't go in, just to see how many of Bryant's clutch plays come down to execution.
Wednesday: Lakers' 99-98 victory @ Memphis Grizzlies
With Lakers forward Ron Artest inbounding the ball with 8.8 seconds remaining, Lakers forward Pau Gasol flashed to the near side of the perimeter and then passed to Lakers forward Lamar Odom at the top of the key. While Bryant cut to the the three-point line, Gasol set a screen on Rudy Gay. Odom then passed to Bryant, who quickly released the three-pointer. The shot swished into the net with 4.3 seconds remaining.
Thursday: Lakers' 87-86 loss to Boston Celtics
Lakers guard Derek Fisher is no stranger making game-winning shots, including the one with 0.4 of a second left in the 2004 conference semifinals in San Antonio and two big three-pointers in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. The circumstances in last week's game against Boston didn't give Fisher the best chance to provide the same theatrics.
The Lakers were granted a timeout with 2.2 seconds remaining, though the team said it had immediately called timeout as soon as Paul Pierce missed a layup with 5.8 seconds left on the clock. Artest inbounded the ball to Fisher, who air-balled an off-balance 21-foot shot that was heavily contested by Boston guard Ray Allen.
Feb. 1: Lakers' 95-93 loss @ Memphis Grizzlies
The final 21 seconds didn't go exactly as planned. Bryant brought the ball up the court, Gasol ran a screen and roll at the top of the key, O.J.Mayo and Marc Gasol effectively switched and Bryant had nothing open with three seconds remaining. He passed to Artest in the near corner for a three-point attempt, but the shot went off the rim as time expired.
Jan. 31: Lakers' 90-89 victory @ Boston Celtics
Closely guarded by Allen at the top of the key, Bryant drove toward the right block and kicked it to Lakers center Andrew Bynum to the right of the lane. Bynum quickly passed back outside the three-point line to Bryant, who drove left, stopped at the free-throw line, pump faked and then shot a fall-away jumper over Allen that swished into the net.
The shot surely conjured images of last year's game at Boston, in which Bryant's three-pointer with 1:30 remaining in regulation gave the Lakers a 101-100 edge, their first lead in the second half, a game in which the Lakers ultimately prevailed in overtime
Jan. 24: Lakers' 106-105 loss @ Toronto Raptors
With Luke Walton inbounding the ball with 1.2 seconds remaining, Gasol, Bryant, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar lined up on the free throw line. When the referees handed Walton the ball, Gasol rolled to the paint, Farmar cut to the right corner, Brown backed to the top of the key and Bryant went toward Walton 38 feet away from the basket. Walton's bounce pass went slightly out of Bryant's reach, but he got the ball and then pulled up for a fall-away three-pointer over Wright. The shot rimmed out, preventing what could have been Bryant's fifth game-winner of the season.
Jan 13: Lakers' 100-95 victory @ Dallas Mavericks
Go to the 1:28 mark in the video above to see Bryant dribble past Mavericks guard Josh Howard and pull up on the block for a 19-foot jumper, giving the Lakers a 97-95 lead with 28.9 seconds remaining.
It capped a 10-point performance and a day that began as early as 5 a.m. His personal massage therapist took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles and gave Mamba four hours of treatment at his Dallas hotel. Bryant wasn't going to let anything, such as flaring back spasms, cause him to miss a game for health reasons for the first time since December 2006.
Still, Bryant spent the entire second quarter laying on a thick cushion in front of the team bench and ended a nondescript first half with zero points and only one shot. But in the end, he made the shot that mattered the most, clinching the Lakers' victory.
Jan. 1: 109-108 victory over Sacramento Kings
After making contact with Kings guard Sergio Rodriguez, who slipped and fell, Bryant took a wide-open pass from Pau Gasol in the left corner. The shot swished in the net as time expired, capping a six-game surge in which he averaged nearly 40 points.
Despite an avulsion fracture in his right index finger, Bryant had played all but 45 seconds in the game. He also continued his hot shooting; during an 11-game stretch, he made 47% of his shots while taking at least 23 per game.
Dec. 16, 2009: 108-107 overtime win @ Milwaukee Bucks
Bryant had a chance to end the game in regulation, but he missed a 16-footer from the left side as time expired in regulation. In overtime, it appeared the Bucks were on their way to a win after Luke Ridnour's 15-footer gave Milwaukee a 106-100 lead with 1:25 left. But that was enough time for Bryant to make some late-game heroics and make up for his missed shot in the fourth quarter.
He made a nine-footer and then scored on an awkward shot in the lane. The referees then called a blocking foul on Andrew Bogut. Bryant made the free throw, cutting the Bucks' lead to 106-105 with 48.6 seconds left in OT.
Mamba's game-winning shot was in the same location as his miss in the fourth quarter. Odom inbounded the pass to Bryant, near the timeline, who drove to the left block, posted up against Charlie Bell and drilled a 15-foot turnaround jumper as time expired.
Dec. 4: 108-107 win over Miami Heat
Bryant's first game-winner this season came after Miami guard Dwyane Wade missed one of two free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining. Mamba took an inbounds pass from Artest near the left sideline, went toward the middle of the court and then shot a fall-away desperation 27-foot shot from the top of the key. The shot banked in and capped a 33-point performance.
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Photo: Returning to the court after missing five games, Kobe Bryant scored 32 points, three of which came on a 26-foot three-pointer with 4.3 seconds to lift the Lakers to a 99-98 victory over Memphis on Tuesday night. Credit: Mike Brown/EPA.