Kobe Bryant scored 23 of his team-high 31 point in the third quarter of the… (Jae Hong / Associated Press )
The game was spiraling out of control and only one player could stop it.
He shot from three-point range. He nailed pull-up and fall-away jumpers. He drove to the basket with ferocity.
Unlike in many other games in his storied 17-year career, Bryant's scoring barrage came in defeat. The Lakers' 114-80 loss Tuesday to the Utah Jazz dropped their exhibition season record to 0-4 for the first time since 2000. By scoring 23 of his team-high 31 points in the third quarter, Bryant made an otherwise boring affair something exciting to watch for the 13,896 fans at Honda Center.
"I had to come out and get the momentum going," said Bryant, who went 10-of-18 from the field in 29 minutes. "At this point, I was just practicing during the games trying new things. Tonight, I just went back to the basics."
That involved, as it often has, shooting, and it couldn't have come at a more needed time. The Lakers trailed 52-32 at halftime, after shooting only 29.4% from the field in the first half. The Lakers played without their starting frontline of Dwight Howard (back rehab) and Pau Gasol (rest). Lakers Coach Mike Brown gave Steve Nash the second half off. The Lakers' forwards in Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison would shoot a combined three-of-11 from the field.
So Bryant went to work.
He nailed two consecutive pull-up jumpers and added a close hook shot, converting on a three-point play after drawing a foul by leaning into Jaamal Tinsley. Bryant then made three consecutive three-pointers. The Lakers star finished his nine-of-11 clip in the third quarter with an eight-foot fadeaway and an 18-foot pull-up jumper.
Bryant rested the entire fourth quarter.
After the game, World Peace repeatedly called Bryant's performance "amazing." And that was before he was aware that Bryant had scored all but one of the Lakers' points in the third quarter. (Guard Steve Blake scored the other point on a free throw.)
"He did that?" World Peace said with a smile. "I love that. I remember that he did that in Game 5 of the Finals. He had 23 straight points."
World Peace was referring to the Lakers' 92-86 Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. In that game, Bryant scored 38 points, including 19 of them in the third quarter.
In that game, Bryant asserted himself with powerful one-on-one drives to the basket. On Tuesday night Bryant said he let the scoring opportunities come to him.
"In the system, those are opportunities I had," Bryant said. "It wasn't like in the past where I'm isolating the ball all the time. A lot of it was catching and shooting out of the offense and Steve [Nash] penetrating and me spotting up on down picks and making easy pull-ups. "
Despite Bryant's scoring binge, Utah still outscored the Lakers, 36-24, in the third quarter. But witnessing Bryant's performance made fans forget the score.
"Obviously, he's capable of doing that almost any time he wants to, especially when he doesn't face a double-team," Brown said of Bryant. "It's good for the fans to watch."
*Time staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report