BOSTON -- Kobe Bryant often inspires panic. The pure, unadulterated kind where palms sweat and psalms are read. The coach of the Celtics, Doc Rivers, saw the sharp corners of panic setting in as Bryant started to go Wilt Chamberlain in the third quarter.
"We were up, I think, 12 or 10 when he was making that run, and we had to use a timeout to settle our guys down," said Rivers, " ... you could see [the Celtics players] wanted to change the defense, they wanted to start trapping [Bryant], and I just kept telling them, 'It's only two points each time he scores. It's not 10 ... ' But it makes you question your defense, because he was terrific."
Rivers knew what his players didn't. Bryant was hurting them but he was the only one. It was five Celtics against one Laker, and as good as that Laker was, Rivers will take those odds every time.
The Lakers' supporting cast was mushy and then eventually invisible, and these words from Paul Pierce are among the most damning one professional can say about another. If I were a non-Bryant Laker, I would pin them in my locker and look at them every day as a form of motivation.
"Kobe is the one guy that you probably can't stop in this league," Pierce said, "but we feel like with these other guys we can slow them down and almost shut them down, and we'll give ourselves a great chance at winning."
Recap: Celtics 92, Lakers 86
|Schedule and Results|
Game 1: Lakers 102, Celtics 89
Game 2: Celtics 103, Lakers 94
Game 3: Lakers 91, Celtics 84
Game 4: Celtics 96, Lakers 89
Game 5: Celtics 92, Lakers 86
Game 6: 9 p.m. ET - Tuesday, June 15 (L.A.)
Game 7: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 17 (L.A.)
These other guys. The Lakers' supporting cast doesn't even have names in the eyes of Pierce. They're just dudes. Kobe and The Other Guys.
Pierce can say these things because he's right. Bryant scored a game-high 38 points in Game 5 while the four other Lakers starters had 34 points combined. The entire Lakers non-Kobe team had 48 points. Bryant had 19 points in the third quarter alone.
So here we are again, with Bryant spilling blood while his teammates watch with helpless impotence.
Bryant didn't morph into a selfish jerk this time. There have been plenty of those games, but this wasn't one of them. This was more about Bryant's teammates. Bryant looked around and saw massive Lakers shrinkage and knowing he was the only Laker on the floor with a beating heart, he took control.
He had no choice.
Tough shot after tough shot fell for Bryant. Some of the Celtics players looked in awe. Ray Allen once just shook his head after Bryant made some twisting, deep falling jumper with Allen in his face.
"I feel like if Ray didn't [play] for us defensively, Kobe scores 50," Glen Davis said.
But they'll take that. Again, Bryant is still only one man.
Are the Lakers done? Is this series over? Maybe not. The Lakers have Bryant, after all. He's not getting much help, but he's still the closest thing the NBA has to Michael Jordan -- and that makes Bryant dangerous.
|If Kobe Bryant's teammates want to win another title, they're going to have to do more of the heavy lifting. (Getty Images)|
It's because Bryant's supporting cast in this series is coming up so small, they've regressed into Kwame Brown territory -- and it's not just the players. It would be nice if the Zen Master earned his paycheck, too.
The Celtics are proving to be grit and attitude, while the Lakers are Kobe. And Kobe. And Kobe. And then a few other guys who look like lost puppies.
Bryant was asked what he would say to his teammates before Game 6. His answer was pretty simple.
"Just man up and play," Bryant said. "What the hell is the big deal? I don't see it as a big deal. If I have to say something to them, then we don't deserve to be champions."
The big deal is Bryant needs help. Lots of it, and if he doesn't get it soon this series will be over very quickly.
Maybe sooner than people think.