So we're here where we are now. Quite honestly I have not watched a Mavs-Laker game these playoffs because of my job. I've relied solely on the comments you all post on the game threads, and the recaps presented by Dex and CA to get a feel of what is really going on. And I do not think it takes a genius to realize that things aren't going well.
The team isn't cutting it right now. From looking like a jealous, overweight NBA analyst, Charles Barkley is looking smarter by the day. Bill Simmons is probably smiling right now. And the evil gods who have not only taken "superstar calls" away from Kobe, but the right calls for that matter are laughing. Bynum's demoralized and so is the team. Pau continues to prove the fact that he is not, and never has been the MVP and best player of this team during their championship run - and that the moment he becomes the MVP of the Lakers, then that's the time they stop being championships contenders.
Then there's the Kobe post-game interview that some of you have already raved about, and that seems to have given hope to some of you. This is the man that holds our hearts in the very palm of his hands. Make no mistake about it. Kobe is not that same "I-can-score-50-points-anytime-I-choose to" that we saw during the 2005-2008 interval. I still think that in the playoffs, he is a sure "I-can-score-30-anytime-I-choose-to", although admittedly I am having doubts. And that play at the end of game 1 when he passed the ball to Derek Fisher (Uh... Jason Terry), Terry was right in saying that in years past, he could have at the very least gone for the lay-up for two points. Now I do not want to go into the "So does this mean he's not the best player in the world anymore?" discussion. That's irrelevant at this point.
Where am I going with this? What is it that I am expecting from Kobe? Well, it's something he has provided time an again which to me, has been an integral part in making this decade (especially the latter part), HIS decade - this era, HIS era.
Flashback to game 3 of the 2007 NBA playoffs between the Suns and the Lakers. Lakers had just come from a tough loss in game 1, and got run out of Phoenix in game 2. Suns went up 11-0 in the first quarter in game 3, and you could hear the boos from the fans. The Lakers were looking lost. Doug Collins then said something that has stuck to my head ever since.
What Kobe must do now, he has to give this team courage.
I look back at that quote, and I tell myself, that's really all I ask, for better or for worse. And he has done it time and time again, better than anybody has done it in this era.
In 2005-2006, a team that had no business being in the playoffs ended up in the 7th seed, with Kobe chucking 27 shots a game - each of those shots you can bet both he and his teammates believed would carry them. The following year, they again ended up in the 7th seed. In the process he scored 50+ in four consecutive games. This coming after a really bad losing streak that had the team and the fans demoralized.
In the 2005-2006 playoffs, a team that had no business being in the playoffs took the 2nd seed Suns to 7 games. In the following year, after two demoralizing losses in PHX, Kobe scores 45 in game 3, and you could see fight in that scrub Laker team in games 3, 4, and 5. And you know what, during these runs, you could actually see the fight in the eyes of the infamous Smush Parker, Brian Cook, Kwame Brown, and Luke Walton. YOu don't believe me? Watch the series again.
We can name so many moments of Kobe instilling courage in his team, of being the first one to push back when the other team shoves HIS team.
See the whole of 2005-2007.
See game 5 of the 2007-2008 Jazz series wherein he swished his first two shots (and the team's first two shots) after supposedly having a bad back.
See the 2008-2009 Nuggets series game 1 and 3.
See 3rd quarter game 5 of last year's Finals
See game 6 of last year's Finals, specifically 1st quarter where he went 5/6.
See game 5 of the first round of these playoffs. (He had no business having two plays in the top 1 play of NBA.com that day)
And so on...
For better or for worse, that's what Kobe must do, regardless of how he does it. Kobe will go lengths at doing this. Score God-knows-how-many? Check Dirk on defense 0_0? Throw one down on Chandler? Go ballistic in practice? Who knows?
This is the man that this Laker team, and we Laker fans will live by, and die by. And that's because of the courage that he has time and again given his team. And over the next 2 games, whatever the outcome, that's what I expect to see.