- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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This was supposed to be game where we finally could relish in what the Lakers all 7-foot frontline looked like, with Lamar Odom filling in for Ron Artest and joining Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to give Los Angeles 21-feet of man power at the three, four and five positions.
Instead, the comparatively puny 6-foot-6 Kobe Bryant made seven plays throughout the course of L.A.'s thrilling 112-103 double-overtime win in Sacramento to make this one all about the Mamba.
Let's look back:
1. After the Kings led by as many as nine points in the first quarter and had the Arco Arena crowd whipped into a frenzy, Bryant stole the momentum back with a personal six-point flurry to end the period including two dunks and an only-Kobe-could-hit that fadeaway jumper from the foul line extended that brought L.A. to within three after one.
2. Midway through the third quarter Sacramento still had control of the game and a four-point lead when we saw Bryant's patented seething, jutted-out lower jaw face from last year's postseason make its dramatic return when Bryant scored 10 of the last 11 points for L.A. to tie the game headed into the fourth.
3. Bryant had to head to the locker room between the third and fourth quarters to get treatment on a strained right elbow – his shooting elbow. The most basic shooting technique taught to developing ballers is a checklist with the acronym B.E.E.F. – balance, eye, elbow, follow through. If the fractured index on his shooting hand wasn't going to affect his follow through and his tender left knee from a scare during the Oklahoma City game wasn't going to affect his balance, you knew that Bryant would find a way to overcome the elbow injury.
He paced himself though, starting out the fourth quarter by moving the ball out on the perimeter with a left-handed behind-the-back pass not out of fancy but because of necessity. He even threw a fullcourt, baseball-style outlet pass to Shannon Brown that Brown caught and converted into an and-one layup to cap a personal 8-0 run to give L.A. a six-point lead with 4:23 left in the fourth.
4. The Kings fought back to tie the game and L.A. squandered two chances to put the game away, first when Brown missed an easy backdoor layup off of a set inbounds play under the basket with 49.9 seconds left and then with 23.3 seconds left when Gasol came up empty on two free throw attempts with the game tied at 94.
Sacramento had the ball on the final play of regulation with a chance to win. The Kings put the ball in the hands of rookie sensation Tyreke Evans (18 points) and ran an isolation against Bryant at the top of the key. Bryant was able to tap the ball away from Evans when he made his move to the hoop with less than three seconds left and then dove to the floor for the loose ball as time expired. Evans made the same play against Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas at the end of a game two weeks ago, but against Bryant he was helpless to his own tricks. Bryant should have been credited with a steal for the play but wasn't. Which brings us to his fifth big play …
5. The Kings opened up the first overtime on a 7-0 run (a game after getting shutout 13-0 in OT against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday) before L.A. woke up. It wasn't until Bryant's steal and subsequent dunk on the other end to cut it to two with 1:27 left that it looked like the Lakers would be able to pull the game out.
6. Gasol made up for his missed free throws by tipping in a shot with 0.4 seconds left in overtime to force a second extra session. The tip came after Bryant missed an ill-advised three-pointer from well behind the line with 5.9 seconds left. It was his only real flaw all night and it set up what he was about to do in the second overtime to become even more dramatic.
With 3:26 to go, Bryant nailed a three to put L.A. up 106-101. The Kobe Face didn't wait quite so long this time around to make a comeback. We see it again after this triple.
7. On the Lakers' next possession Bryant gets the ball at the top of the key and lets it fly from deep again. He hits it. The Lakers go up by six and hold on to win, pushing their record to 4-0 in OT games this year. After the game Bryant tells 710 ESPN's John Ireland, "I can't feel my arm from the elbow down."
Bryant finished with 38 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals and even with the bum elbow shot it much better than he did on Friday as he had five more makes and two less attempts than his total against Cleveland.
He is now averaging 37.7 points per game over his last three contests.
It may have just been a win against a young Kings team with a sub-.500 record, but this one meant a little bit more.
Coming off the Christmas day clunker and with Artest back at home recovering from stitches to his head and left elbow and a concussion he sustained from falling down a flight of stairs while carrying an arm's load of boxes, it could easily have been a let-down game.
Plus, L.A. always seems to struggle in Sacramento, a place where the Lakers couldn't get it done last season when they finished 65-17 and the Kings were the reverse, just 17-65.
Artest was examined by a neurologist on Saturday and will continue to be evaluated on a daily basis.
L.A. should feel fortunate that the injury wasn't more serious and Artest is listed at day-to-day, but it just so happens that it comes at a time when the Lakers have three games in four days starting with Sacramento and continuing Monday in Phoenix and Tuesday at home against Golden State.
The seven-foot frontline wasn't the answer Phil Jackson hoped it would be. He called them "clumsy" after the game even though the Lakers won the battle of the boards by seven Odom grabbing 15, Gasol 11 and Bynum nine. L.A. also tied a season-high with 11 blocks with Gasol leading the way with six.
Some of the same troubles popped up as L.A. allowed its opponent to break the 100-point barrier for the third straight game (albeit with 10 extra minutes of overtime); Bynum continued to struggle, finishing just 1-for-9 from the field and picking up five fouls; and the bench was still outscored 28-23 even though Brown finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and Sasha Vujacic was a +5 in 16 solid minutes.
Jackson still has some work to do with the lineup depending on how long Artest is out. We don't know if the Adam Morrison-Vujacic-Brown-Gasol-Bynum lineup that was trotted out in the first half will be the answer either.
But in the meantime, we do know, it's awfully nice to have Kobe Bryant on your team.
On a court full of seven-footers, Kobe rises above them all.