He says his Los Angeles Lakers will rally from a 3-0 deficit against the Dallas Mavericks. It's a rare comeback in North American sports, most notably accomplished by the 2004 Boston Red Sox against their rival New York Yankees and last season in the NHL, when the Philadelphia Flyers rallied to stun the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. As for the NBA, it's never been done in 65 years of the league's existence.
That's not stopping Bryant from being optimistic after the Lakers suffered a 98-92 defeat to the Mavericks on Friday night at American Airlines Arena in Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinals.
“I might be sick in the head or crazy or thrown off or something like that, but I still think we are going to win this series,” Bryant said. “I might be nuts. Win on Sunday. Go back home and see if they can win in L.A.”
When asked where that confidence comes from, the five-time NBA champion said: “I don’t know. I’m just nuts.”
Considering how the Lakers have played so far against the Mavericks, there are lots of reasons to call Bryant nuts and little reason for faith.
The Lakers blew a 16-point second-half lead in Game 1 and were routed in Game 2. Their latest setback: The Lakers squandered an 85-78 lead with 5:08 remaining Friday and were outscored 32-20 in the fourth quarter.
Closing games has been a big problem for the Lakers in this series. In three contests, the Mavericks have outscored them 82-55 in the fourth quarter. Lakers center Andrew Bynum(notes) said it's been a concern all season. Bryant had a harsher assessment of Friday's meltdown.
"We [expletive] up," Bryant said. "Stuff we went over [Friday] morning in the fourth quarter, [expletives] just didn’t do it. They didn’t make the [defensive] rotations they were supposed to. It’s as simple as that.”
Bynum, who had team-highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds, said: “We’re beating ourselves. … I don’t think it was their defense. It was more just us thinking for some reason we had to mismatch and that was the extent of the offense. …
“I’m not very stunned. I really thought we’d win tonight, at least.”
Lakers power forward Pau Gasol(notes) is a shadow of his All-Star self this postseason and talk of being soft has resurfaced. He’s “out of it” mentally and hasn’t been able to be “effective or comfortable out there,” but couldn’t explain why and says he needs to “snap out of it.” Time is running out.
He entered Game 3 averaged a disappointing 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in the postseason, which is 5.2 points and 2.4 rebounds below his regular-season averages. Gasol was poor again Friday, scoring 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting with eight rebounds in 40 minutes, including just three points in the fourth quarter. He also primarily guarded Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki(notes), who had 32 points and nine rebounds Friday.
“It’s been tough,” Gasol simply said. “It’s been tough more than anything [because] of the losses.”
When asked if this poor playoff season ruins his previous Laker accomplishments, Gasol sternly responded: “You tell me? Should it? I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson was so frustrated with Gasol he popped him in the chest during a first-half timeout in hopes of sparking him. Gasol took the hit in stride and didn’t retaliate.
“He’s been through enough playoff games to know the deal that you can come back and play games,” Jackson said.
Said Gasol: “Obviously, he wants me to be more aggressive and assertive out there. I just got to be able to do that better and really get going. I just got to do it.”
The Lakers will be adding forward Ron Artest(notes) back to the mix Sunday after he returns from a one-game suspension for his clothesline of J.J. Barea(notes) at the end of Game 2. But what should they expect after he disappointed them at the worst time?
Lakers forward Lamar Odom(notes) started at small forward instead for the first time since the 2002-03 season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Odom finished with 18 points and six rebounds. With the NBA Sixth Man of the Year starting, the Lakers' bench combined for a mere 15 points while the Mavs’ reserves had 42.
Jackson said that Artest’s absence made the Lakers weak defending the perimeter as the Mavericks nailed 12 3-pointers. Jackson believes Artest can be the key to a Game 4 win if he returns strong.
Sunday could be Jackson's final game as he's expected to retire after this season. He said Bryant told him Friday morning that the Lakers’ situation is a fitting challenge in a potentially final run. Jackson responded by saying it’s a team problem that the players – not him – have to figure out.
The Hall of Famer has 11 championships as a coach and a 229-103 postseason record. This is new territory, as he has never been down 3-0 in a series.
“Well, we’re disappointed,” Jackson said. “We feel like Games 1 and 3 we controlled the pace of the game, but just couldn’t finish the game. They were better finishing the games out than we were, so that’s a big disappointment to us. But we still believe we are going to win the next game and go from there.”
If Bryant was worried about his Lakers’ dire straits, he certainly didn’t appear that way as he walked out of the American Airlines Center upbeat wearing sunglasses and a turquoise sweater. Remember, he’s a little crazy.
“We can’t kick ourselves now,” Bryant said. “You got to pick up your boot [straps] and get it done. That’s it. It’s not as hard as people make it out to be. Win the next game, go to L.A. and see if they can beat you on your own floor. It’s a must-win, then you come up here for Game 6 and all the pressure is on them and you see what’s what.
“[My teammates] are fine. When you think about it, it makes sense. I will explain it to them and it will make sense. Win the next game, go to L.A., and they’re not going to beat us in L.A. to close it out. Than we come back here and see what happens.”