One by one, in the span of 10 mesmerizing third quarter minutes, Kobe Bryant fired off shots like smart missiles.
He bagged a stepback triple. Ray Allen was there. Didn't matter.
He canned a floater with Kevin Garnett's hand inches way from blocking it. Didn't matter.
Somehow, even when he could not see the basket, he knew the ball would find the net.
In a locked down boardroom somewhere in the U.S., Lockheed Martin executives prepared to make him a lucrative job offer.
A few of the government's weapons control agents might have subpoenaed him for questioning.
The guy knows how to pull the trigger and hit a target.
He scored 19 points in the frame, seven away from a new all-time record for points in a Finals quarter.
Throughout Bryant's spectacular display, his teammates had to wonder if they, too, would get to bomb the village.
They never did, and the Celtics would learn less than an hour later that they survived to win 92-86 because of Bryant's barrage, not in spite of it.
As Bryant kept pouring it on in the third, Boston kept laying it in. The Celtics managed to build on a halftime lead when they surrendered 26 points in the third period because they scored 28.
What kept the Lakers attached in the second half also exposed the number of detached players in purple and gold.
Phil Jackson prefers to run the triangle offense. Sunday night, his team ran the Rubik's Cube offense. As the final score indicates, the Lakers could not solve it.
Gone were cuts by Pau Gasol to the rim. He made just five of 12 shots en route to 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Gone were those heroic moments from Derek Fisher. He signed, sealed, and delivered Game Three to the Lakers with a coast-to-coast, and one layup to cap his 11-point fourth quarter.
After making his first two attempts Sunday, Fisher missed his next seven.
Gone were Lamar Odom's flashes to the rim. He did contribute eight points on four-of-six shooting but could not stamp the game in crunch time.
Gone were Andrew Bynum's catches for uncontested two-handed slams. Right knee discomfort swallowed his explosiveness and lateral quickness. He grabbed one rebound in 31 minutes.
If the fluid returns to his knee, and it might given the cruel nature of the injury, Jackson might have to say "bye now" to Bynum.
It says in the box score that Ron Artest converted two of his seven field goal attempts. Well, that's what it says. I don't believe it, either.
This eerie episode might prompt A&E and Leonard Nimoy to resurrect the Ancient Mysteries series.
The Lakers, however, do not need to convene an investigation. This was not an alien occurrence.
The prognosis— more player and ball movement— is as barefaced as the disease. Bryant should know by now that he cannot bully the Celtics into double coverage.
When he shoots from the perimeter or drives to the cup, he should expect a hand in his face and another hip attached to his.
The Lakers cannot and will not win this way.
All but one of his shots in that third-quarter eruption rank high on the degree of difficulty scale. He one-handed an alley-oop layup after Fisher had thrown a nausea-inducing pass.
He dropped a three-pointer all the way from Cambridge. It mattered.
The Lakers reached the NBA Finals because their size and length up front proved too much to handle. The balance between the tall guys and Bryant made them champions again.
Sunday night, the tall guys cowered in the weeds while Bryant ran to the battle zone, his firearm in hand, ready to complete this mission by himself.
This isn't Kobe's series to win, even if his ego says so. The Lakers' second loss in a row was also not his fault. His 38 points kept the team within striking distance.
When it was clear Artest could not stop Paul Pierce, Bryant asked Jackson to switch him to the assignment.
Maybe Jackson knew better than to find another way to gas Bryant.
His teammates must remember that his legs carry more playoff mileage than anyone else in this series. They must also force themselves into the action.
Enough with this Rubik's Cube crap.
Gasol keys the triangle's success as much as Bryant. When he tipped-in his own miss at the end of the third quarter, he reached seven points.
That will not scare the Celtics. It will not beat them.
The Lakers' shoddy ball movement highlighted their overreliance on Bryant. They registered just 12 assists. The Celtics made 21 passes that directly led to scores.
One sequence defined the game. With less than five seconds on the shot clock in a key fourth-quarter possession, Nate Robinson waltzed to the rim for a layup.
All the Lakers could do was point fingers. The lone resistance the visitors offered was to playing defense.
Ray Allen, who had missed 16 straight three-pointers, found himself wide open underneath the basket for another layup. Robinson delivered the pinpoint pass.
The fellas with shamrocks on their jerseys won the points in the paint tiff 46-32.
A few other numbers that should frighten the Lakers:
The Celtics shot just 13 free throws. The Lakers again doubled them up in that category with 26 attempts.
The Celtics made just three of 12 shots from beyond the arc.
Glen "Big Baby" Davis, one of the heroes of Boston's Game Four victory, did not score in 13 minutes.
The Celtics turned the ball over 16 times, an alarming number of them in fastbreak situations, and still won.
Bryant, for his part, has a lot to ponder. A few images should stick in his mind. Guard Tony Allen blocking the seven-foot Gasol at the rim.
His numerous off-balance shots that could not make the difference. Artest bricking two free throws that would have diced the lead to three.
Those mental pictures will haunt and enrage Bryant. The Lakers and their star must learn from them.
If L.A. hopes to become the first opponent to knock out Boston after a 2-3 Finals deficit, it must rediscover its offensive balance.
Trust and the triangle are the smartest missiles of them all.
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