Take Friday night for instance.
Here were the mighty Lakers fighting for their playoff lives, but facing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit on their home court to the (then-) 24-38 Toronto Raptors. They had given up 89 points to a team that has averaged 97.5 points per game on the season.
This coming, of course, just 48 hours after facing an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit against a 21-40 New Orleans Hornets squad.
Yet just as they had two nights before, the Lakers embarked on an improbable comeback. And just as he had two nights before, Bryant put his team on his back.
He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter against the Raptors (13 points in the game's final nine minutes against the Hornets in case you were wondering), including the team's final nine points with three triples in the last 1:41 of regulation.
Overtime saw more of the same, with Bryant pouring in five points in the period's final 2:20. His last bucket, which proved to be the game-winner, was nothing short of an exclamation point to his bold playoff guarantee made last month (via Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated).
There hasn't been a more telling week in the Lakers' tumultuous season.
Championship clubs don't need double-digit fourth-quarter comebacks against the Raptors and Hornets. They don't let bad offensive teams shoot 48 percent like the Lakers have over these past two games. They certainly don't have a secondary star consistently forcing his foot in his mouth every time a microphone is thrown his way like Dwight Howard has.
What championship clubs do have, though, is a supreme leader like Bryant, a player seemingly able to summon miraculous, game-saving efforts at will.
His numbers over his last two games have been nothing short of extraordinary: 41.5 PPG, 12 APG and 6.5 RPG. The Raptors and Hornets (heck, the entire basketball world for that matter) knew exactly where the basketball was going, especially in crunch time, but still couldn't keep Bryant from converting 58.1 percent of his field-goal attempts in the two games. (It bears mentioning, though, that the two opponents did force him into 15 turnovers combined.)
As good as he is, Bryant can't mask the defensive deficiencies of backcourt mate Steve Nash. He can't force Howard to bring the type of intensity he's shown the past two games (44 points, 28 rebounds and nine blocks). And he can't change the fact that the roster remains a far cry from the type of team coach Mike D'Antoni desperately wants it to be.
But that doesn't mean the Mamba won't give it his all in trying to do so.
And that alone makes the Lakers a threatening prospect for any potential playoff foe.
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