From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: If we learned anything in the two days leading up to the Lakers’ commanding 106-90 Game 5 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, it’s that people still don’t trust Kobe Bryant. What more does the guy have to do? Following Bryant’s balking at getting X-rays or an MRI exam on his left-ankle sprain from late in Game 4, a hoard of armchair doctors took to the talk-radio waves and their Twitter feeds to diagnose his injury. They called for him to drop the tough-guy act and warned he could be causing further damage down the road. It was too big a risk for the first round against New Orleans, fans cried. What if it were worse than a sprain, like a hairline fracture or even a break? Now, after Bryant dropped a team-high 19 points in 28 minutes and threw in one of the most highlight-worthy dunks of his “SportsCenter” Top 10-laden career, the only question is: What will he do for an encore?
From Gary Lee, Lakers Nation: Last night, in a pivotal game 5 vs. the New Orleans Hornets, the world wondered aloud if they were seeing the decline of Kobe Bryant. They wondered if his body was starting to break down and if he was able to fight off Father time for another night to pull the Lakers through to victory. Well, as we saw with his tide-turning dunk over Emeka Okafor, Kobe Bryant not only fought off Father time, but crossed him over and made him fall to his knees in amazement. Watching that dunk, a number of our twitter followers were talking about how they haven’t seen that version of Kobe since his afro days, so we thought we’d take a look back at those “Afro” days with a collection of videos we found on YouTube of Top 10 Plays from his first 4 years as well as some of the best commercials Kobe filmed during that time.
Eric Koreen, Posted Sports: In December, a group of Toronto artists mounted a Ron Artest-themed exhibition. Shockingly, considering Artest’s history of complete randomness, the Los Angeles Lakers star made an appearance, the night before his team played the Raptors. Artest was not going to attend originally. “At first I thought it was something bad. I thought it was [someone trying to be] funny. I thought it was someone making jokes,” he said. “I’ve been doing so many [good] things, and then it’s like, ‘Oh man, I can’t do anything good without somebody doing something bad, trying to bring down my name.’ I was a little bit disturbed, just by the name of the title [of the exhibit], ‘Lovable Badass’, right?”
From Emile Avanessian, Hardwood Hype: Whatever your reason for tuning in- escapist entertainment, civic pride, gambling interests, whatever- the greatest moments in the sports-viewing life of any fan are those that unfold when the spectacular and the unexpected converge. Last night in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant, author of countless such moments, made his latest deposit into our memory bank. Having relied less on athleticism this season than in any of the previous 14, and playing on a left ankle that he’d sprained exactly six weeks prior in Dallas and rolled again in the Lakers’ Game 4 loss in New Orleans, Kobe was not expected to conjure up images of a mini-fro and a #8 jersey on Tuesday night. It’s a good thing no one bothered to inform Kobe.
From LSU Hornet, At The Hive: This is the first thing I’m writing since the start of the playoffs, and even now I am writing more as a fan than an analyst, journalist, or anything else someone might mistake me for. As soon as we were matched up with the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, I decided to throw rationality out of the window and go into the series as purely a fan of the team. I knew that almost everyone did not expect much out of this team, with the most optimistic outlooks only calling for a “gentleman’s sweep” in favor of the defending champs. Even in our own Writer’s Roundtable, not one of us mentioned the possibility of winning the series.
From Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It was nasty. A mighty collision of wills at the rim, and doctors will be removing pieces of Kobe Bryant from Emeka Okafor’s posterized face for days. There could even be some basketball-leather shrapnel. It was just nasty. Oh, the other injury. Yeah, never mind. Bryant played 29 minutes on the sprained left ankle that forced him to hobble out of New Orleans Arena on crutches two nights earlier and required nonstop treatment to get him ready for Tuesday at Staples Center. He had a team-high 19 points, making eight of 13 shots. Bryant didn’t just heal. He got into the way-back machine. He saw a lane to the basket from the perimeter, then he saw Okafor coming to defend, and then he performed like Kobe of old (and not old as in last weekend, when health wasn’t giving the Lakers something to worry other than the Hornets). “It looked like he was going to challenge me at the rim,” Bryant said. “I accepted the challenge.”
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The Lakers just enjoyed one of the trickle-down bonuses of Kobe Bryant’s drive. He plays hurt, he plays well, and he inspires his team to rally around him. It dates all the way back to his first championship in 2000, when he played on a sprained left ankle (sound familiar?) after sitting out a Game 3 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Shaquille O’Neal fouled out in overtime of Game 4, and Bryant carried the Lakers to the finish of that game with a performance that O’Neal even admitted he re-watched on video that summer as a pure fan. From Bryant’s oak tree, there grows another firm branch, though – one the Lakers hope to climb out on Thursday night against the Hornets. Bryant’s killer instinct is unique, too.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: After converting on a right hook, Lakers forward Pau Gasol pumped his fist. After converting on an inside lob, Lakers center Andrew Bynum flexed his muscles. And after the Hornets surprisingly owned the advantage inside for most of the series, both Gasol and Bynum finally fought back with increased aggressiveness. The Lakers’ 106-90 Game 5 victory Tuesday over the New Orleans Hornets assuaged concerns for reasons besides retaking control of the series and Kobe Bryant still managing to play through pain with a sprained left ankle. It took four games longer than it should have, but Game 5 also featured the Lakers finally showcasing their superior size advantage against the Hornets in a physical nature, a quality not usually attached to the defending champions. “We should play like that all the time,” Gasol said after posting 16 points on six-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds and three blocks. “[Game 5] was a game we needed to play physical, control the boards and use our bodies.”
From Mark Medina, LA Times: In a wave of nostalgia, Lakers forward Ron Artest poured out his emotions, unmasked his vulnerabilities and inspired a group of policymakers and fans alike. All it took was a few sentences thanking his psychologist after his Game 7 heroics in the 2010 NBA Finals to set the hook: “She really helped me relax so much. Thank you so much. It was so difficult to play when there’s so much emotion going on in the playoffs. She helped me so much.” It turns out Artest’s plug helped others. It wasn’t too long after that memorable postgame interview that the office of Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) contacted Artest’s publicist, Heidi Buech, to see if Artest was interested in speaking out on mental health issues. Before Artest knew it, he was visiting schools, testifying before Congress on behalf of the Mental Health in Schools Act, appearing in a public service announcement with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and raffling off his own championship ring for $651,006 for various mental health charities. Artest plans to distribute the money after the playoffs end.