With 20 seconds left and the Los Angeles Lakers hanging on to a one-point lead in a nip-and-tuck Sunday afternoon battle with their longtime nemeses, the Boston Celtics, just about everybody in the basketball-watching world was probably expecting Kobe Bryant to commandeer L.A.'s final possession. Just how good Kobe is in these late-game situations has become a favorite debate in some NBA-watching circles, with writers and fans tossing around numbers, quotes and opinions at a fever pitch seemingly every time the Lakers have the ball with the clock running down.
Some emphasize the fact that Bryant leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring and that polls of his peers have often identified him as the players' pick for the league's most respected closer. Others note that 23 other players this season have produced more "clutch" points than Bryant, that he's shooting just 27.9 percent in such situations and that the Lakers as a team rank 23rd in the league in fourth-quarter efficiency.
The perception and momentum can swing not only game-to-game, but play-to-play — against the Detroit Pistons last Tuesday, Kobe coolly drained a 19-foot fadeaway at the buzzer to send the game to overtime (he's clutch and a winner!), but then missed two 3-pointers late in the extra frame to give the Pistons the win (he's bad in big moments and kills his team!).
Whatever your opinion on Kobe's predilection toward hero ball, at this point, pretty much everyone expects to see it. Which is why, with the Lakers up 95-94 against Boston on Sunday, Bryant called an audible, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times:
[...] he uttered four words the public hardly expects Bryant to say.
"Make me a decoy," he said.
So on the Lakers' final offensive possession of the game, leading by one, Bryant stood at the top of the key, while Metta World Peace threw an entry pass toward Andrew Bynum. The Lakers center backed into Boston forward Kevin Garnett. He picked up his dribble just as Paul Pierce cut down to double team. Then Bynum split both defenders and spun around to make a short right-handed hook.
The bucket gave the Lakers a three-point cushion that they'd hold on to with some stalwart defense during a frenetic final 15.5 seconds, sealing a 97-94 victory on Sunday. The combination of the Lakers win and the Los Angeles Clippers' 97-93 loss to the Golden State Warriors later Sunday put Kobe and company back in the top spot in the Pacific Division.
Check out video of Kobe's humble handiwork, plus more reaction to the deferral, after the jump.
According to Greg Beacham of the Associated Press, Bynum "appeared to take particular satisfaction in his decisive role" in the Lakers' victory over their arch rivals from the East.
"It was crazy," Bynum said. "Kobe came up with that play. He said, 'They're not going to be able to know what to do.' I was able to get deep position and go to work." [...]
The Lakers earned their 18th victory in 19 home games, stylishly finishing their third straight victory over Boston in yet another thrilling meeting.
"We love beating this team," Bynum said.
Bynum beasted on the undersized Boston frontline on Sunday, putting up a double-double before halftime and finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds. His game-icing hook continued a pattern of ruthless late-game efficiency, according to NBA.com stat maven John Schuhmann, who noted that Bynum is now shooting an eye-popping 24 of 27 in "clutch" situations this season.
A legit 7-footer who can "go to work" down low, get his own shot against just about any post defender and hit at a 90 percent clip seems like a pretty good late-game option, no? It'll be interesting to see whether Kobe's so willing to stand at the top of the key the next time crunch time rolls around in Hollywood.
Video of Bynum's basket via CBSSports.com's Ben Golliver.