The 2003-04 season was an exercise in frustration and tension for the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were at odds with each other. Bryant was threatening to leave at the end of the season, and the roster was ravaged by numerous key injuries.
Despite going through a rough stretch from late December to February, L.A. had reason for hope.
By March, the Lakers were starting to win regularly again, and the resurgence coincided with the return of Karl Malone from a sprained knee.
On March 15, they took on the Orlando Magic at Staples Center. Orlando was a mediocre team, but it featured Tracy McGrady, one of the NBA’s best wing superstars and seemingly a rough clone of Bryant.
The Lakers were down by 15 at the start of the fourth quarter, and Bryant was 4-of-13 from the field. Right then and there, he went into volcano mode.
He went 8-of-11 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line to score 24 points in the fourth period and force overtime, leading to the Lakers’ 113-110 win.
Perhaps more impressively, Bryant also put the clamps on McGrady. The Magic star had 32 points through three quarters, but Bryant held him to 2-of-8 shooting and five points afterward.
It was a vintage display of Bryant’s prowess not only as a scorer but also as a defensive stopper.