Monday , May , 01 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Notebook: Kobe is the man

(Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have come to play
in the postseason. Even though they were only the seventh seed in the Western
Conference, the Lakers are playing like a team that is on a mission.

The Lakers grabbed a 3-1 series lead over the second-seeded Phoenix Suns with
a thrilling 99-98 overtime victory at the Staples Center. Bryant knocked down
a game-winning 17-foot jump shot as time expired in overtime to give the
Lakers the emotional win.

“I felt very confident he was going to make that shot,” said Lakers head coach
Phil Jackson after Game 4’s win. “He already had it measured up. What Phoenix
has done to him through the course of the second half is keeping him away
from measuring his shots up. They did a great job double teaming and
trapping today.”

Bryant, who also made a game-tying layup with .7 seconds left in regulation to
send the game into overtime, finished with 24 points on 9-of-14 from the
field. He grabbed five rebounds and dished out a team-best eight assists in
38-plus minutes of action.

“I was telling the guys earlier when we were in the locker room, I have played
a lot of playoff basketball and I have never had a game quite like this,” said
Bryant. “With our backs against he wall, seemingly out of it, and us just
battling back and getting this ‘W.’ I told them we matured about 10-to-15
years today. We did a lot of growing up in this game.”

Lamar Odom had an excellent game for the Lakers, as the 6-10 forward scored a
game-high 25 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out five assists in
over 49 minutes of court time.

The Lakers also got solid performances from starting center Kwame Brown and
reserve guard Devean George. Brown contributed 12 points and a team-best 10
boards, while George scored 11 off the bench and was 3-for-5 from beyond the
arc.

“Coach (Jackson) told us that this was a game we had to win, and I think
everybody was a little nervous from the start,” said Brown. “They (the Suns)
came out aggressively and we played aggressive. The officials had control of
this game and it was a hard fought battle…Now we just have to continue to
fight hard and end this on their home court.”

Phoenix had three players score at least 20 points in Game 4’s loss. Steve
Nash netted 22, while Shawn Marion scored 21 and Boris Diaw registered 20
points. Nash handed out a game-high 11 assists and Marion pulled down a
game-best 12 rebounds.

“That was a tough loss,” said Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni. “We played
well, did what we were supposed to do…then a lot of things just went wrong,
wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and we paid for it.

“Give them (the Lakers) credit. They played hard. We’re going to have to back
bounce on Tuesday…I thought we bounced back in the overtime to overcome that
one, but we’ll bounce back on Tuesday.

Bryant, as expected, has been the key for the Lakers. The Suns believed they
were going to see a one-man show, but what they have been witness to is an
All-Star player who is getting all of his teammates involved.

An eight-time All-Star, Bryant, who averaged a league-best 35.4 points during
the season, is averaging 23.0 points so far in the postseason. He is taking
less shots, which has caught the Suns off guard. By changing his style of
play, Bryant has made the Lakers a more dangerous and effective team.

“He (Bryant) is amazing,” said Luke Walton of the Lakers. “Even the shot he
hit to go into overtime was an amazing shot. The NBA is so competitive and
coming down the stretch knowing you have Kobe on your team, you know that you
are never really out of a ballgame.”

When the game is on the line, Kobe knows the rock needs to be in his hands.
However, he has allowed his teammates to get the ball more and the results
have been just what Jackson and the Lakers hoped they would be.

Kobe and the Lakers have found their game at the right time.

LAL PHO