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Less Kobe Bryant, more balanced effort in Lakers' clincher

Bryant's eight assists help get teammates involved in the Game 7 victory over Denver in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

May 13, 2012|By Melissa Rohlin

Long after the Lakers' biggest win of the season, Kobe Bryant met his daughters in a Staples Center hallway.

One of his girls was dragging a purple streamer that got snagged on an object. Bryant immediately turned around and walked through a throng of reporters to help her set it free.

The moment symbolized his play in the Lakers' 96-87 win over Denver in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series Saturday evening.

While absorbing double- and triple-teams, he sacrificed for others.

Bryant finished with eight assists, more than he has tallied in any playoff game this postseason, and 17 points on seven-for-16 shooting.

"We're used to Kobe taking more shots," Metta World Peace said with a smile.

When a sea of blue jerseys collapsed around Bryant, he passed the ball, defying his reputation of being selfish, a stigma that has plagued him throughout much of his career.

"The trust is there," Bryant said of his teammates. "They're wide open and they're professionals and they're going to make those shots."

Of course, Bryant has not lost his edge.

"If they can't make those shots, they shouldn't be playing," he added.

With Bryant acquiescing to the role of decoy, Coach Mike Brown did the unthinkable at the top of the fourth quarter when the Nuggets had erased the Lakers' 16-point third-quarter lead.

He ditched his playbook.

"[With] nine minutes to go in the fourth, we didn't call a single play," Brown said. "We just said, 'Hey, we're just going to throw the ball into Kobe early because they're going to come and double him. Space the floor on the weakside. Just be ready to shoot. Drew [Bynum], you be ready to duck in on the backside.Pau [Gasol], every once in a while, you go play pick-and-roll.'"

Bryant's teammates responded.

Gasol, Bynum and Steve Blake combined for 21 points in the fourth quarter while Bryant, who normally shoots without discretion down the stretch, had a modest three points on one-for-two shooting.

"He understands that he can't win the game by himself," Bynum said of Bryant. "We all have to step up and [Saturday] we did that."

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