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Kobe Bryant disappears at the end for Lakers

He is not up to the task in the key closing moments of a Game 2 loss at Oklahoma City.

May 16, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • A frustrated Kobe Bryant pulls on his jersey after teammate Steve Blake (not pictured) misses a three-point attempt during the final seconds of the Lakers' 77-75 loss Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A frustrated Kobe Bryant pulls on his jersey after teammate Steve Blake… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

OKLAHOMA CITY — It was Mount Rushmore crumbling, piece by piece. It was the Grand Canyon shrinking, inch by inch.

It was the greatest closer in basketball history closing a playoff game — and perhaps a season — down upon his own fingers with such force that an entire city still wails in shock and pain.

Leading the Oklahoma City Thunder by seven points with two minutes remaining in Game 2 of their second-round series Wednesday, the Lakers put the ball in the hands of the great and trusted Kobe Bryant.

He muffed it. He dropped it. He bricked it. And in the final seconds, when the Lakers needed him most, he never even touched it, watching Steve Blake clank a three-point attempt that put the finishing fumble on a monumental collapse to give the Thunder a 77-75 victory.

When it was finally finished, Bryant walked alone across the Chesapeake Energey Arena floor, shaking his head, uttering a mournful profanity that spoke for a team and fan base that has been officially Sooner boomered.

Despite playing the textbook slowdown and slugging game necessary to beat the Thunder, the Lakers now trail the series two games to none, with back-to-back games awaiting their aging legs in Los Angeles this week.

After an opening-game route by the Thunder earlier this week, it seemed impossible that the Lakers could win this series. Now it seems even harder.

"We felt like we let one slip away," Coach Mike Brown said. "Right now, it's a tough loss."

Tough, as in the Lakers had the game stolen. They had it tucked away in their expensive shoulder bags and were sneaking out to the plains to whisk it back to Staples Center, where a series and season would live.

And then the Thunder not only stole it back, but stole it back from perhaps the most bulletproof, impenetrable player in the game.

Put it this way: I've covered Kobe Bryant since he arrived in Los Angeles 16 years ago, and I've never seen him fall so completely apart in a moment so incredibly big.

"You know, it happens," said Metta World Peace. "You know, nobody's perfect."

No, it doesn't happen, not to Kobe Bryant, and not in the manner it happened Wednesday, beginning shortly after James Harden's layup pulled the Thunder to within five points.

With 1 minute 48 seconds to play, Kevin Durant swiped the ball from Bryant around midcourt and raced down for a dunk to close the gap to three. Less than 10 seconds later, a Blake pass bounced off Bryant's hands out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Thunder as the crowd's roar reach such a crescendo, those sitting at courtside could not hear themselves talk.

"In the last few minutes, they just made some gambles, jumping in the passing lane, that not something we're accustomed to seeing," Bryant said. "It was just a flat-out risk defensively."

Funny, but aren't those the same kind of risks Bryant takes when trying to bring the Lakers back from similar despair? Wasn't the Thunder just throttling him at his own game?

The Thunder couldn't convert the turnover, giving the ball back to Bryant, whose fadeaway jumper was blocked by Harden and eventually converted by the bearded wonder for a fast-break layup to pull the Thunder to within one.

Just wondering, but, in crunch time, when the strongest things on the court are usually Kobe Bryant's legs, when is the last time someone actually touched one of his game-saving shots?

But, oh, it got worse. With the Lakers leading by one with 36 seconds remaining, Bryant clanked a silly three-point attempt with six seconds left on the shot clock to give the Thunder the ball and a chance to take the lead with the arena literally rocking with noise.

"I was just too far from the basket," Bryant said of his final shots. "We'd try to run a play inside, once that broke down, I could watch the ball 25-27 feet from the basket, and it just didn't work out."

Again, just wondering, but when is the last time one of the NBA's most accurate gunners complained that he was too far from the basket?

The final baffling Bryant moment occurred after Durant's floating runner gave the Thunder the lead with 18.6 seconds remaining. The Lakers eventually ran an inbounds play where a pass from World Peace ended up in the hands of a wide-open Blake while Bryant mucked it up inside.

Where was he going? Why couldn't he get open? Why wasn't he running to the ball?

Brown said Bryant was open, and Bryant didn't dispute that notion, even though it is not clear on the replay.

Said Brown: "We set a flare and Kobe was wide open on the back side."

Said Bryant: "I don't know what Metta saw. ... I turned around and saw the ball in the air."

Perhaps the most definitive explanation came from World Peace himself, who simply said, "I don't know what to say exactly what happened."

Yeah, the rest of us have never seen anything like it, either. The closer was closed, the hero was hollowed, the 2011-12 Lakers may be finished because Kobe Bryant couldn't.

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