Los Angeles Lakers: Has Kobe Bryant Lost His Fourth-Quarter Mojo?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IFebruary 4, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 30:  Kobe Bryant #24  of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Boston Celtics in the first half at Staples Center on January 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Celtics defeated the Lakers 109-96.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

During the 2009-2010 NBA regular season, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hit seven shots in the fourth quarter or overtime that were directly responsible for victories for his team.

But these days, it's a struggle for Bryant to score in the fourth quarter at all.

Last night, the Lakers lost to the San Antonio Spurs 89-88 on a last-second tip-in by Antonio McDyess, but the true story of the game from a purple-and-gold perspective may have been Bryant's 1-of-5 shooting performance in the fourth quarter.

Bryant's dismal shooting in the clutch may be the defining trend in a season that has seen the Lakers lose five out of six games to the teams ahead of them in the current NBA standings.

In a season in which the Lakers have played below the expectations of many, the last thing most people expected to see was Bryant fail in one of the main areas in which he has carved his reputation.

To be fair, Bryant cannot be solely blamed for the Lakers' struggles in the past few weeks, and there are many other culprits who are equally at fault for the team's recent spate of fourth quarter collapses.

Point guards Derek Fisher and Steve Blake have been unable to prevent penetration in the lane, Andrew Bynum is not yet fully recovered from his constant knee ailments and Pau Gasol at times looks like he's searching for his second wind.

The Lakers are also suffering from injuries to Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, but that is still no excuse for the Lakers' inability to execute when it matters the most.

And most of that can be traced back to Bryant.

The rest of the team feeds off Bryant and, when he is playing with focus and intensity in the closing quarters of games, the Lakers generally follow suit.

But Bryant's poor shot selection and indecision in the fourth quarter has had an opposite trickle-down effect, which has allowed the opposition to seize momentum at the end of close games.

This dynamic was highly visible in a recent game against the Boston Celtics in which the Celtics seized control during a four-minute span in the fourth quarter after the teams had played virtually evenly throughout the contest.

Bryant could never get his offense going late in the game, and the Lakers were crushed under the poise and confidence of the Celtics.

To be honest, there is no guarantee that the Lakers would have prevailed in any of those close losses even if Bryant's offense would have been clicking, but it's hard to ignore the evidence of Bryant's clutch performances last season.

Last night, the Lakers actually played well in the fourth quarter, holding the Spurs scoreless over the game's final 1:53, and if Bynum, Gasol or Odom would have been able to secure a late rebound, the tone of this article would likely be different.

But if Bryant would have been able to connect on one of his three shot attempts during that 1:53 span, it's doubtful the game would have come down to a last-second tip-in in the first place.

There is still plenty of time for the Lakers to improve their play in the fourth quarter, and the toughness they displayed against the West-leading Spurs is encouraging.

But Bryant must first re-capture the fourth-quarter mojo that has made him special throughout his career, and his team will likely follow.


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