Kobe Bryant’s late-game heroics against the Washington Wizards showed the old man still has a tad left in the tank, and it helped remind people how great of a closer he really was throughout his career.
The great Laker was one of, if not, the best closers in the game over the last decade. For many fans and basketball junkies, watching the soon-to-be-retired future Hall of Famer have a turn-back-the-clock session at the Wizards’ expense was something to cherish.
The 17-time All-Star looked fresh and energized going down the stretch, and it was a far cry from the guy who had barely been shooting 30 percent from the field entering the game while failing to have the legs and lift it takes to make spectacular shots down the stretch.
For many Lakers fans, it brought back great memories, because having Bryant close out games has become second nature over the years. At the peak of his closing powers during the Lakers’ 2009-10 championship season, Kobe hit seven shots to give the Lakers the lead in the final 30 seconds, including six game-winners.
Whenever Bryant got the ball down the stretch, he had the swag and pizzazz to captivate an audience while giving Lakers fans the utmost confidence he was going to make a play to save the day. At the same time, Bryant gave opponents and their fans the dreaded feeling that they were in line to join his list of victims.
For true insight into how great of a closer Bryant actually was, all you have to do is look into his ridiculous stretch of games from Dec. 4-Jan. 1 of that season.
In this stretch of 15 games, Bryant led the Lakers to a 13-2 record while averaging 32.6 points. But what stands out the most during the stretch was his three buzzer-beaters against the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings.
Against the Heat in a primetime game on ESPN, Bryant banked in a runner many would consider a lucky shot over the outstretched arms of Heat star Dwyane Wade to keep the Lakers’ eight-game winning streak alive at the time:
He followed that up 12 days later in Milwaukee by showing why it was foolish to give him two cracks to put you away. After missing a shot at the elbow which would’ve won the game at the buzzer in regulation, Bryant went to the same exact spot in overtime, only this time he drilled the shot over a helpless Charlie Bell at the buzzer and celebrated his latest triumph with his hands outstretched in the air, executioner style, as his Lakers teammates mobbed him:
Bryant capped off the trifecta two weeks later with a three-point buzzer-beater against the Kings with the Lakers down by two at Staples Center:
The greatness of this play was everyone in the arena and watching at home knew the ball was going to Bryant, and yet he still delivered again. To make things even more classic, Kings head coach Paul Westphal simply watched Bryant’s feet the entire time to make sure he didn’t step out and walked straight towards the locker room once the ball left his hands.
Many Lakers fans over the years have taken Bryant’s clutch play for granted. But now that he’s lost a few steps and closing out teams like last night’s game against the Wizards is the exception and not the norm, this puts into perspective just how great of a closer Bryant really was, and it adds to the many reasons why he’ll be sorely missed.