Monday, April 29
Updated: June 13, 9:09 AM ET
Bryant's 3 sparked Lakers to three-peat
By Joe Lago
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The chant emanated from the cheap seats in the 200 level at Continental Airlines Arena immediately after Kobe Bryant bricked a free throw with 9:47 remaining.
With the derisive words still filling his hears, Bryant quickly buried a long 3-pointer from the right wing that should've required toll on the Jersey Turnpike. That 26-foot jumper tied the game at 87-all and, by the time the Nets were forced to call their second timeout of the period, Bryant had scored nine of his 25 points to put his own punctuation on Wednesday night's 113-07 title-clinching victory.
"This is our stamp as one of the great teams," Bryant said
Bryant's role in L.A.'s three-peat was to finish what Shaquille O'Neal had started. In Game 2, he scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter of a 106-83 rout at L.A.'s Staples Center. In Game 3, he went off for 12 of his game-high 36 points in a 106-103 victory in the Meadowlands.
Going into the fourth quarter Wednesday night, Bryant had 14 points on just 3-of-10 shooting, but made up for his misfiring by setting up his teammates for easy buckets. He had seven of his eight assists in the first three quarters before locating his shooting stroke.
"When I struggle for three quarters and my shots aren't falling, I usually just kind of sit back and just read the defense and see where the gaps are and just be patient," Bryant said. "If I see a gap and I'm struggling, I'm not going take it. I'll just wait for the right time. I'll start feeling my rhythm and, if my team needs me to score, then I'll take that gap."
In the fourth quarter, Bryant made four of six shots. His crowd-silencing 3-pointer sparked a decisive 22-10 run that put the Lakers up comfortably by nine at 102-93 with 4:05 to play. His double-pump drive made it 104-95 with 3:34 remaining.
"In the fourth quarter, you've got to get stops defensively," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "Kobe hit a three, and we seemed to have a little confusion in what we were doing defensively. We had some of our guys in man defense and some of our guys in our zone defense. That's the things you can't allow to happen that late in the game."
Those are the things Bryant and the Lakers have been taking advantage of the past three seasons. After the game, Bryant was already busy making plans for a fourth consecutive title.
"I talked to all of the guys and got everybody on the same page as far as working out," said Bryant, who walked out of the arena wearing a Michael Jordan jersey and a lit cigar in his right hand. "Because some guys have had two months, a month and a half off, and they're plotting. They're waiting."
Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.