Only a hypercompetitive and maniacal drive to win can make Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant disgusted with himself after scoring 41 points in a 118-116 come-from-behind overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors Friday night at the Staples Center. Los Angeles moved to within half a game of the final playoff spot occupied by the Utah Jazz, who gave the Lakers an assist by losing to the Chicago Bulls earlier in the day.
Earlier in the week, the Lakers eradicated a 25-point deficit against the New Orleans Hornets on the road thanks to Bryant’s 42 points and 12 assists. After another display of late game heroics on Friday night, how could the 34-year-old Bryant, recently self-dubbed as “Vino” for aging well like wine, be disgusted with himself?
For one, the Lakers had the perfect ending to an imperfect game that saw them dogfight their way past a 15-point deficit and into overtime. They shot just 42.9 percent from the field, including 35.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Furthermore, they had 13 turnovers on the night, including nine from Bryant himself—it was the bane of his Friday night performance.
“I’m happy we won, but I’m not pleased with the nine turnovers,” said Bryant. “I mean it’s just that I’m a perfectionist by nature and it (turnovers) bugs the (expletive) out of me to be honest with you. They’re really eating away at me right now.”
Not surprisingly, Bryant is the biggest critic of himself. He sounded like Michelangelo scoffing at the Sistine Chapel for using a wrong shade of color or William Shakespeare berating himself for not developing Juliet’s character better in “Romeo and Juliet”—works of art to the rest of us, but maybe not by the creators themselves.
Still, that perfectionist’s insistence to be better than oneself drove Bryant to will his team to victory. In the final 2:20 of the fourth quarter, which saw the Lakers down by five, Bryant dropped three 3-pointers to help send the game into overtime.
“I mean I was completely irresponsible with the basketball all night long and I just wanted to get in a position where I could somewhat redeem myself,” Bryant said.
In overtime, Bryant hit two clutch free throws and glided in for a two-handed jam that put the Lakers up for good with 10.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
Lakers forward Antawn Jamison saw Bryant’s late game valor as an ode to greatness in spite of Bryant’s self-imposed flogging. Despite his second 40-plus point performance in a row, Bryant saw the number “9” for his turnovers, but Jamison saw a different numerical figure.
“Number 24,” said Jamison. “He found a way to do things that he normally does and it didn’t look good there for a moment, but he willed us to this win tonight.”
Not only did Bryant fill the points category, but he also had another 12-assist night against the Raptors. He found Nash on various occasions that allowed the two-time Most Valuable Player to eat into the deficit with timely 3-point shots. Nash finished the game with 22 points, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
“He’s a clutch shooter,” said Bryant on looking to feed Nash. “You can’t just leave him wide open.”
Still, Bryant was fixated on his turnovers when he was doing his perfunctory media interview in the Lakers’ locker room. It was that one blemish on an otherwise artistic performance that pestered Bryant—eight of his nine turnovers came through three quarters.
“The turnovers I had were just tired turnovers,” said Bryant. “Not protecting the ball, being sloppy with it because I was just fatigued.”
Nonetheless, Bryant continued to receive praise for his performance even if he was repulsed by his turnovers. Lakers center Dwight Howard, who had 24 points with 13 rebounds and five blocks, sang a rendition of George Thorgood and the Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone” when Bryant came out to speak with the media.
Bryant did manage to reserve some praise for himself. He credited his unmatched will to win as the reason for overcoming the fatigue of a memorable season that has challenged the team physically and mentally.
“I know I have an inner determination that I don’t think anybody has that I line up against on any given night,” Bryant said. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to out-will me. I just refuse to believe that.”
Is Bryant perfect to a fault like an artist who is constantly disgruntled by his or her own work?
Possibly, but if Bryant’s drive to be perfect keeps sculpting wins that craft a postseason entrance out of a season that started so imperfectly, then to the Lakers, that’s perfectly fine.