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Late Game Rhythm For the MVP

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My buddy Mays is a Chicago native who decided at the beginning of this season that he was only going to remain a Bulls fan so long as the Bulls maintained some hope of acquiring Kobe Bryant.  Given that it became abundantly apparent early this season that this wasn't to be, Mays took a temporary leave of absence from being a member of the Hicag basketball faithful (forget the fanship issues here for the moment, please; basketball really comes in second to his round-the-clock obsession with Da Bears) in order to devote his NBA-following energies to monitoring the progress of the individual he insists on referring to as the Kobe.

To that end, I received the following message back in early March:

"'Removing Bynum from the picture makes Lamar Odom their third-best guy. He's a wonderfully talented forward and a nice guy by all accounts, but if you're counting on him in a big moment, he's going to let you down...'

Clip from the [Bill] Simmons column. I just have a quick question though. Despite all this unselfish, "I pass the ball to my teammates now" crap, who with a brain expects no. 24 to be letting anyone else do ANYTHING in a big moment? I was just a little upset by this sort of thinking."

In March, these words were good for a momentary chuckle.  Last night, as the country witnessed an epic comeback in the City of Angels, they were nothing short of prophetic.

The Lakers couldn't be happier about that.

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Kobe Bryant was happy to play the facilitator's role for half a game against the defending champions.

He did his best to relax and let the game come to him in the first half, trying not to work too hard to force shots against stopper Bruce Bowen and looking to get his teammates into the flow as much as possible.  Facilitator Kobe went for 2 points on 1-of-3 shooting to go with 5 assists (of his 9 for the game) in that first half, which ended with the Spurs leading by a 51-43 count.

More than halfway through the third quarter, the lead had ballooned to 20, and that was enough for the game's premier individual performer.   The switched flipped.

The Lakers would get eight buckets for the rest of the third quarter.  The MVP was responsible for three of them (accounting for seven of his 11 points in the quarter) and assisted on four more.

On came the forth, and on came Kobe.

As we've seen so many times before, this guy simply did whatever he wanted down the stretch.  He started the quarter off with a steal under the Lakers' basket for a quick lay-up.  The barrage in the half-court sets followed.  When the Spurs forced him to the outside, Bryant calmly canned mid-to-long-range twos.  But for the most part, he simply created whatever shot he most desired.  He cruised down the wings for runners, nailed his usual assortment of baby pull-ups and somehow only made one trip to the line for a pair of free throws.

Finally, with the game on the line, with everybody in the building knowing what was coming, it was clear that Bruce Bowen -- still one of the game's best individual defenders -- never had a chance.  Bryant calmly took the ball on the wing, burrowed his way toward the middle, leaned in to gently shake Bowen off with his left arm and in one fluid motion stepped back with the space needed to drain the 9-footer that would prove to be the game-winner with 23 seconds left to play.  Pure.

The final stat lines for the fourth quarter told the story pretty accurately:

San Antonio Spurs: 3-for-19 from the field, 13 points

Kobe Bryant: 6-for-9, 14 points

Sure, the Lakers as a unit deserve plenty of credit for the excellent defensive job they did on the black and silver.  Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher stepped up a bit more in the fourth than they had over the course of the rest of the game, which isn't saying a ton given that they combined for a 4-for-21 night from the field.  Sasha Vujacic wound up an extraordinary plus-25 for the game.

But above all, the league's MVP was there to be the take-over savior for the purple and gold last night.

With the game hanging in the balance, Kobe Bryant was in total control.

Love him or hate him, what can't be denied is that he only continues to add to one of the greatest resumes of all time.

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