In the Lakers' final game of the regular season, Kobe Bryant hit not one, but two incredible buzzer-beating 3-pointers that gave Los Angeles the overtime road win and, ultimately, the second seed in the West. To take a closer look at Kobe's stylish heroics, NBA.com talked to NBA TV analyst Steve "Snapper" Jones, who called the game in Portland. Here's what Jones had to say about Bryant's improbable back-to-back shots, his place in the game, and what this does for the Lakers' chances in their quest to reach The Finals.
Can you recall a player hitting two shots like that in one game?
Steve "Snapper" Jones:
"Reggie Miller against the Knicks. He's the last guy that displayed that kind of ability to make big shots from deep with the game on the line. In my mind, Reggie is at the top of the list of guys making game-winning shots from distance. I think he's better than anybody in NBA history, including Jerry West."
What was your reaction after Kobe hit the first one?
Jones: "My reaction -- because he's hit so many big 3-pointers in Portland, like Michael Jordan used to do in Cleveland -- was, 'That's the last guy Portland wants with the ball taking that shot.' The Blazers forgot about his history in Portland. Kobe is a cold-blooded assassin when it comes to those situations. He simply believes in himself in those situations. Portland should have been thinking about fouling him in the first situation; they should have made sure someone else got the ball in the second one. Kobe just displays a competitive spirit unmatched in the league today. He thinks he can pull off the impossible; and he can."
Can you talk about the defense the Blazers played on him? It looked pretty tight on TV.
Jones: "It was good defense. But you have to think about it; put it in the proper perspective. The Blazers need to know that Kobe was the guy the Lakers were going to go to to either tie the game or win it in the Rose Garden. That's his building. He shoots extremely well there. You have to know that he's the last person you want shooting the ball. The Rose Garden is to Kobe what (Richfield Coliseum) in Cleveland was to M.J. You can find other teams Kobe has done well against, but you can't find other buildings where he's been so consistent. He puts the dagger in Portland's hearts every time he's there."
"In the Blazers' huddle, they told all their players to "stay at home", meaning everyone was to stick with his man. Kobe acted like he was screening down low, but then he popped out. (Derek) Anderson got stuck, so Theo (Ratliff) had to come out and chase him. But by then he had too much room."
Right now, is Kobe the best clutch-shooter in the game?
Jones: "Yeah. If you're going to rank them, of the players playing today, he's easily the best in that situation because he can manufacture shots. He can contort his body and elevate and do so many things that allow him to get off the shot. And somehow it consistently goes in. It's like when you're playing a game of horse; you twist all these different ways to do a trick shot. But this is what he does on a regular basis. When the game is on the line, he finds different ways to make big buckets. Look back at the Lakers' first game of the season, when Kobe didn't shoot the ball for the first 12 minutes. Portland won that game, but it was a close game. And at the closing bell, it was Kobe who was making shots and making drives. Portland should know better. The only thing they can hope for when it comes to Kobe is that he missed the plane.
Is Kobe at that Michael Jordan-level where shots like those two no longer surprise you?
Jones: "I'm not surprised by shots like this. Yes, he's at that Jordan level. It's unfair to compare him to Jordan, because when Jordan was making his shots, he had a bigger profile, but that's the player that you draw upon the quickest. But I don't think MJ ever made as many big shots as Reggie made. But you have to put Kobe in that group. Kobe's one of those guys who wants the ball, and who can make that shot. I throw Reggie in there because I've seen him do so many teams in. The Blade can still do it. To me, that's the epitome of a great player; his ability to perform when the game's on the line. Here's the story, and it's true for everyone who's ever been in a last-shot situation: You're going to miss more than you're going to make, but you still have to believe you're going to make more than you'll miss."
Do you think those shots worked to give the Lakers any momentum heading into the playoffs?
Jones: "Yes and no. I think what everyone on the team realizes now is that when they need that big shot, they have the guy that can get it done. In Game 1 against the Rockets, he missed it, but Shaq got the dunk. I think the team understands that Kobe has to be the guy with the ball when the game's on the line, because it's harder to get the ball in to Shaq. It's harder to get it to Malone. Gary Payton can still create, but nobody's as good as Kobe. If the Lakers are in a pinch, they'll look to him to bail them out. He's just a unique player. When that moment comes, he wants the ball. Phil Jackson is a smart enough coach to recognize that. So does it give them momentum? Well, it gives them an out. When all else fails, give it to the kid."
What are the Lakers' chances of winning the title this year?
Jones: "Their chances are not as good as everyone originally thought they were. They still have not played with the dominance that their talent says they should. Their big four haven't clicked yet. So if they do win it all this year, it's going to come from will and resolve. If they meet the Spurs in the second round, that will be their test right there. If they can get by San Antonio, they will win the title. If they don't, then San Antonio wins it all."