Kobe Daggers Toronto
Retro Running Diary: March 8, 2013
As Mamba Day approached, I knew I wanted to do a deep dive into one of my favorite Kobe Bryant games.
But, I mean … there are so many games from which to choose, and that’s out of the ones I saw in person (2008-2015)!
So, as I was narrowing down my list, my Lakers co-worker Pete Zayas happened to text me a photo from the walk off interview I did with Kobe after he, somehow, carried the Lakers to a late-season victory over Toronto on March 8, 2013.
It was a wild game that featured a ridiculous array of three dagger triples from Kobe in the final two minutes just to get the Lakers to OT … before he two-hand dunked the Purple and Gold to a win they had to have.
First, a bit of context: this was the season of the infamous “Now This is Going to be Fun” Sports Illustrated cover featuring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The title was supposed to be merely a formality to come in June. In reality, Nash got hurt in the second game of the season and wasn’t the same, Howard struggled to adjust, and coach Mike Brown was fired after a 1-4 start.
The low point came on Jan. 23, when a 10th loss in 12 games saw L.A. drop to 17-25, somehow out of the playoff picture.
Kobe wasn’t going down like that, though. In his 17th season, he absolutely dragged the Lakers back into the mix through his indomitable force of will. He ramped things up even past his usual maniacal level, finding ways to lead L.A. to wins to keep them in the playoff mix. He even averaged 45.6 minutes per game in his final seven regular season games … until his body finally succumbed in the form of an Achilles tendon tear on April 12.
Just before that final stretch, he put up my favorite performance of that season, against Toronto. Here’s what stood out to me in a re-watch of that game:
9:00: A breakaway dunk, when Kobe leaked out after a close out and Andrea Bargnani didn’t hustle back, was the “easiest deuce he’ll get tonight,” via Stu Lantz on the Time Warner Cable SportsNet broadcast. It’s certainly a direct contrast to the absurdly tough shots he’d start hitting soon!
7:36: Kobe linked up with Dwight for a nice, simple, screen/roll action resulting in Howard’s dunk. Part of Howard’s early-season issues that year revolved around his desire to get the ball inside, and show what he could do as a scorer. Yet, what the Lakers got him for was his dominance as a screen/roll player. Around February, Howard started focusing more on that bread-and-butter action, and things really started to turn for him, and for the team. They’d have been a real problem in the postseason had Bryant not hurt the Achilles. They went 19-7 after of the All-Star break (25-29 before).
3:44: Kobe exploded through a trap of Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, and glided past a helping Amir Johnson to finish a layup with his left hand. Beautiful move. Yet, LAL were down 28-21 there, and 37-25 after the 1st.
4:02: The Raptors remained in control of the game, holding a 10-point lead for much of the period, though Howard was playing well. He scored three times on the interior, and had a nice block on the other end. He’d ultimately finish with 24 points on 9 of 15 FG’s, with 13 boards, five blocks and three steals, and was a team-best +14 in his 46 minutes. They’d need all those minutes, as Gasol, out for a while with a plantar fascia injury, missed the game.
3:25: Kobe blew by DeRozan with that first step to his right we’ve seen so many times, and finished with a big dunk. On the next trip, he waited for Howard to establish position under the rim, and fed him for a dunk. Then with 3.3 seconds left in the half, Metta World Peace tipped in the second of two Kobe free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to 59-53 at the break.
8:23: Nash had hit a three, off Kobe’s hand, at the 8:53 mark. So on the next trip, after Kobe drew four Raptors on a silky spin move into the paint, kicked the ball out to the wide open Canadian instead of taking a shot at the rim. Nash hit again, and L.A. were within five.
4:18: And yet, the Raptors pushed their lead right back to 13 … requiring B2B threes from Kobe … then a backcourt steal and dunk … to get L.A. back in striking range. Lakers fans were going nuts. Kobe had ‘em eating out of his hand, as always.
1:41: After Bryant found Nash for another three, and Howard blocked another shot, Kobe hit perhaps his most absurd shot of the evening to pull the Lakers within two. The Raptors had switched a high screen and roll with Howard, as Johnson rotated out to Bryant. TOR’s Alan Anderson recovered, resisted the temptation of rising on not one, but two Kobe pump fakes, only to see Bryant drill the highly contested triple nonetheless.
0:29.0: Anderson managed to score with 1:25 left to put Toronto back up by four. Where would Mike D’Antoni turn? Yeah … to Kobe, who sold what’s a typical cut up the floor around a screen, only to burst backwards into the corner for a highly-difficult, hotly-contested pull-up triple off the inbounds pass. He buried it, pulling the Lakers within a point. And while the previous triple was completely out of rhythm, this one was straight out of Naismith’s text book on how to gather, rise and release, for a shot with perfect arch, that barely touched the net.
0:05.0: After two Lowry FT’s, the Lakers trailed by three with 8.0 seconds left. You figure Toronto would make sure Bryant couldn’t get a shot off, right? Well … they tried! With Johnson and Gay trapping him, determined to make him get rid of the ball, Kobe somehow managed to free himself for a wing triple. He split the two Raptors to check to the ball … pump-faked Johnson by to his right … then rose right over the top of the 6’8’’ Gay and buried his third straight triple in the final 1:41 of action.
0:49.2: The Raptors managed to go up by three behind a pair of Anderson hoops, plus two DeRozan free throws opposite Howard’s 1 of 2 FT’s and two FT’s from Kobe. This time, the Raptors were ready for Kobe to fire another triple, but instead, Nash pulled up from the top of the key, with Kobe in the strong side corner and Howard heading his way to apparently screen down. That tied the game, and a missed jumper from Gay gave Kobe and the Lakers a chance to go ahead...
0:10.0: … With Amir Johnson fouled out, Raptors third string center Aaron Gray was in the game, as starter Andrea Bargnani went out in the first half with an injury. With about 15 seconds left, Gray sprinted from his man, Howard, under the hoop, to come trap Kobe. But … he didn’t do it very well. Kobe, recognizing that Gray was out way too high on the floor, simply blew past Gray*, well aware that the paint was vacated. Nobody else was going to deter Kobe’s drive, and he rose up for a two-hand flush that put LAL up 117-115.
*In the walkoff interview, Kobe said this: “I knew Gray … he’s not the fastest guy in the world…”
0:00: Toronto actually had a chance to tie the game, but Anderson missed a free throw, and Gay a jumper after Nash split a pair. L.A.’s 118-116 win kept them in striking distance of the postseason, thanks to Kobe and his: 41 points on 11 of 22 FG’s and 5 of 10 3’s; 14 of 16 FT’s; 12 assists; six rebounds; and two steals.
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