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Bill Plaschke

Bryant's role is limited, but others step into spotlight

May 15, 2008|Bill Plaschke

Kobe's back?

The Lakers had it.

This time, his teammates would not be ignored. This time, his teammates would not be still.

This time, the spasms were in their shaking fists and screaming voices.

The time, the guys who collapsed in pain were dressed in Jazz.

On a night when Kobe Bryant's sore back limited him, his maligned teammates hoisted him, and this is why the Lakers are now just one win from the NBA Western Conference finals after a 111-104 victory over the Jazz in the tiebreaking Game 5 at Staples Center.

One win needed, two games to get it. And if the Lakers can't finish off this series on Bryant's back, well, after the fourth quarter Wednesday, we know there are plenty of shoulders around to carry him.

There are the shoulders of Pau Gasol, who in a few quick seconds became the giant everyone imagined, grabbing two huge offensive rebounds and scoring twice after the Jazz pulled to within one point in the final minute.

Then there were the shoulders of Lamar Odom, who threw down a late dunk that rattled the room while throwing defensive elbows and hands that rattled the Jazz.

Gasol "made huge plays, he and Lamar both," Bryant said afterward.

And what about his back?

"It really got sore in the fourth quarter, it kind of stiffened, and my teammates picked me up," he said.

How much was he picked up? Are you ready for some of the most amazing statistics of the season?

The most important quarter of the Lakers' season, and Kobe Bryant did not take one shot.

The most pressure-filled quarter in many of these young players' careers, and their leader helped them with only two assists.

And yes, one of the loudest, sweatiest quarters of the season, and the Lakers didn't make one turnover.

Yeah, the Lakers outscored the Jazz, 30-23, in that final quarter with brilliant play by every forgotten player.

"They tried collapsing on me, so I had to kick it out to our shooters," said Bryant, who made three free throws in the final minute of the game.

Shooters, shoulders, all of them showing up after being chilled only three days earlier in a controversial Game 4 loss in Utah.

Entering the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 81 and an exhausted Bryant sitting on the bench, the Lakers' lineup consisted of Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Gasol, Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar.

These were some of the same guys who were blown away by the Jazz's second unit at the start of the fourth quarter in Game 4, leading to a public scolding by Coach Phil Jackson.

These were also some of the same guys who were ignored by Bryant in the overtime of that game, leading to criticism of Bryant by some, and support of Bryant by Jackson.

In other words, these guys were in the eye of Sunday's storm.

And suddenly, Wednesday, they were the storm.

Radmanovic made a three-pointer to start the quarter. Walton threw up a shot at the shot-clock buzzer to draw a foul, leading to another point.

Gasol scored on a layup from Radmanovic, then, midway through the quarter, the much-maligned Farmar gave the Lakers their final push toward home.

Yes, that was him faking out Deron Williams and scoring on a layup. Yes, that was him being fouled on the play and making the ensuing free throw.

And, yes, that was him being slapped joyfully on the head by Bryant as he came to the bench amid the night's loudest ovation.

Before the game, Jackson stated the obvious.

"They've held serve, we've held serve, now it's time for us to step up and hold serve," he said. "That's what this is all about."

But who would have thought it would be the other guys swinging the racquet?

In that fourth quarter, the Lakers' defense held the Jazz to 33% shooting, and stayed within two rebounds of the physical team.

Before the game, Utah Coach Jerry Sloan said he figured Bryant would play through his pain.

"He puts the uniform on . . . he goes to another level," Sloan said. "I'm sorry to talk about it like that, but I'm just being honest with you."

To be honest with him, it was everyone else playing at the other level Wednesday.

"We're starting to believe we can compete with these guys," Sloan said after the game.

To be honest with him, if the Lakers' role players keep starring this way, the Jazz doesn't have a chance.

Kobe's back?

The Lakers had it.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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