Remember when Kobe Bryant having the ball in his hands and the lead with under a minute left meant that the game was all but over?
Remember when you almost knew that the Lakers would win if they were down a point or two and Bryant had possession?
Those days are over.
After watching Los Angeles blow a six-point lead on Christmas Day against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls with less than one minute remaining, Lakers fans need to realize that Kobe isn’t the same player anymore.
Chicago mounted a comeback to get within one and Bryant had the ball with 20 seconds left. The shot clock was off and the Bulls swarmed the star shooting guard. Instead of fouling, they forced him to throw an errant pass to Pau Gasol, which was intercepted by Luol Deng.
D-Rose scored on a floater immediately after on a possession during which Kobe left him and let Derek Fisher defend.
Bryant had a chance to win it, but was stuffed by Deng. He got a very minimal amount of lift and explosion when he took it to the cup.
It’s obvious this isn’t the Kobe of old, who would have found a way to escape the trap and get fouled without passing. The old Kobe would have certainly nailed a game winner with the ball in his hands that close to the hoop.
This is a superstar at the end of his prime ready to fade into the twilight. The multiple surgeries and experimental procedures over the past few years—the ones that were meant to delay the inevitable—are finally failing him.
Bryant still managed to put up 28 points while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing six assists, but he turned the ball over eight times—including the one leading to the Bulls’ last crucial possession.
The team needs to find a way to get their other stars, Pau Gasol (14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks) and Andrew Bynum (suspended) more involved and taking on a bigger role.
Kobe can no longer carry this team. If he is forced to for an entire game, his legs will fail him at the end.