Kobe Bryant, who walked into the conference room flustered from another outraging defeat, sat gloomily in the midst of an elimination game answering the unassuming questions at postgame interviews sarcastically and angrily.
Later, he emerged from the interview room speechless with a bitter stare then proceeded down the hallway and reflected on a 92-86 loss in Game Five of the NBA Finals.
If there’s a petulant superstar irritated in an unpredictable and startling series that the Lakers are bearing unfamiliarity by being on the verge of elimination, it’s Bryant losing his swagger and composure, despite shooting from the field brilliantly without faltering.
The Black Mamba, as we call the greatest finisher and scoring menace with four rings and the most frightening facial expression in sports, is very indignant following a loss that was considered a much-needed win, traveling back home to potentially close out an alluring series.
As the season winds down for the Los Angeles Lakers and a champion is close to being crowned, Bryant is calmly optimistic ahead of Game Six on Tuesday. He is ready to harass the Boston Celtics with his distributions and selfish ethics to score as a dictator and unstoppable force.
Meeting with the media lately, Bryant proffers merely short-answered and dissatisfying remarks about the culminating results. As anticipated, the Lakers place any road woes in perspective at home, greeted by the celebrities and non-celebs as the cast emerge from the tunnel and are introduced by the PA announcer during the players’ introduction.
It’s apparent they like the savory taste of home cooking, instead of room service. It’s obvious they are comfortable sleeping in their own beds, instead of sleeping in a luxurious suite in Boston, a hostile town where the Lakers are insulted and disliked.
For the first time in the postseason, L.A. trails 3-2 in a series and needs to survive in the next two games in order to host another parade on Figueroa Ave., a crowded street with the craziest activity.
In a sense, the Lakers could miss out in all the festivities, without staring skyward at the rafters to glance at purple and gold confetti fall from Staples Center. The finest scorer on earth, I suspect, is only a loss away from missing out on one objective in a series when the focal point is surrounding his legacy as he has an opportunity, a viable chance to strengthen his legacy by winning his fifth title.
With a lingering scare, as the Lakers are faced in an unfamiliar scene, the supporting cast is outworked by the Celtics' raw bench, outplayed by a hungrier and coveted starting unit, and more passive and softer than Boston. If there is a bigger letdown in sports, it's the lethargic sporting cast of the Lakers, considering that Kobe’s teammates have relied on and comfortably watched the public airing of the Kobe Show, not realizing much is at stake.
It’s unfortunate that the Celtics are manipulating the tone with resourceful methods, downsizing the style of a vintage Bryant. Unlike ever before, he’s hesitating on every attempt, drawing defenders, frustrating his mentality and minimizing shots from the field on a night he scored a game-high 38 points in Game Five. The four other starters had 34 points combined. Bryant scored 19 in the third quarter alone.
There’s one thing certain about the esoteric Lakers previously discovered in Game One, a night the tenacious unit seemed worthy of winning a consecutive title with their fearless size, powerful depth, and a talented roster.
But now the Lakers are simply not championship-caliber, needing adjustments to rise above the Celtics’ superiority recently, with an incompetent supporting cast deteriorating and deranging at the moment a championship is on the line.
And this time, Bryant’s not to blame for such collapses or back-to-back road losses in a significant showdown, putting on a shooting clinic and keeping the Lakers within a double-digit deficit.
While he’s ostensibly faulted for disrupting the chemistry and incapacitating the elements, selfishly taking over without involving his teammates into the offensive groove, he’s getting criticized for being too selfish and overly occupied. Early on, he wasn’t a facilitator, but an unconscious shooter.
Early on, he failed to spread the floor and share the ball with teammates, but realized his supporting cast has been shaky. So again, it’s damned if he does or damned if he doesn’t. For the time being, no one simply can dismiss the Lakers having a clutch finisher who seems helpless, even when he’s the most lethal superstar since Michael Jordan.
Near the end, Bryant screamed angrily. Ron Artest was befuddled and complained, and Pau Gasol was softer than ever, bringing back the dreadful memories of two years ago when the Lakers were murdered badly by the Celtics in a 39-point loss, the worst blowout in NBA Finals history.
At this point, Kobe’s teammates are no longer the scariest ones. At this point, the Lakers are mo longer the favorites to win the series, for all the defensive lapses and lack of productivity.
The Celtics are a well-rounded squad coached by Doc Rivers, who utilizes his deeper bench, a second unit that has outworked and pestered the Lakers. It’s fair to say the Celtics are scoring on second-chance points, out-rebounding a taller frontcourt, neutralizing confused defenders, and badgering a perturbed Bryant.
The strongest heavyweights are the C’s, demonstrating toughness and potent balance. It wasn’t until late in the game when Rajon Rondo slashed the lane and levitated over Lamar Odom and Bryant for a tip-in. Even though he was born and raised in Los Angeles, Paul Pierce, who overly worked his defensive nemesis Artest, has no sympathy in beating down his childhood team, the Lakers, finishing the night with 27 points.
In the meantime, the L.A. team is still optimistic heading back home, realizing the series is sudden death and that a helpless Bryant needs team contribution if the Lakers expect to force a Game Seven at home. And without a sense of urgency or a stronger mindset, the Lakers won’t survive the potency of the Celtics. Asked about the fear of elimination, Bryant once again had a short answer and responded in sarcasm.
“I’m not very confident at all,” he said, laughing.
He is fearless, I’m sure. But he’s also earnest about winning a fifth title.
This is no longer the same Lakers, demoralized with injuries, softness, and passiveness. This is no longer the same Lakers grabbing rebounds or loose balls.
This is no longer the same Lakers pushing and sending bodies to the floor. And this is no longer the same Lakers with enough fight or heart, coming back home where the heart is, but certainly not for the purple and gold team, unless they turn things around. Now is the time Phil Jackson may want to make minor adjustments and escape the softness that destroyed aspiration two years ago.
Perhaps, the supporting cast could use extra practice to make adjustments very quickly.
It’s very apparent that Kobe doesn’t need the practice or adjustments, just as it is apparent that he is not to blame.