While his 38 points came in impressive fashion, it's the following numbers that carry more significance: 12, 9, 7 and 6. Those are the point totals of the Lakers' other four starters, who were essentially transformed into spectators as Bryant channeled his inner Wilt Chamberlain and took every shot imaginable. By the end of the night, he had 38 points, but he also was 13-for-27, which begs the question of what had a bigger impact on the game — his 13 makes or his 14 misses?
To get an idea of what that answer is, look at Paul Pierce. The Celtics' captain nearly matched Bryant's showstopping performance, but his decisions to defer to teammates at the right time are perhaps the reason the Celtics lead the series 3-2.
Bryant, on the other hand, went into the "me, me and me" mode that he was in during those down years from 2004-07. Back then, he didn't have much of a supporting cast, so he'd hit the floor and occasionally put up 81 points. Now, it's a different story. The play of Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum has helped the Lakers get to the Finals and win two games. It was the same case in Game 5, when the entire team was involved, and a Ron Artest 3-pointer cut the Celtics' lead to one point.
The score was 36-35. Then, Kobe scored 23 consecutive points…and the Lakers trailed by nine.
With 4:30 left in the third quarter, there were no Lakers other than Bryant who were in an offensive rhythm. The rest of the team shot 8-of-16 from that point forward, Bryant went 2-for-5 and the Lakers never caught up to the Celtics.
In the one-on-one battle of Finals MVP vs. Finals MVP, Kobe came away with the better numbers. Similarly, back in the '08 playoffs, when Pierce and LeBron James went back and forth all afternoon in Game 7 of the conference semifinals, The King walked away with better numbers while Pierce and the Celtics moved on to the next round.
What Pierce did in both games was show what a superstar can do to help his team win; what Kobe did was show what a superstar can do to make some highlight reels.
The 30-foot 3-pointer was impressive. That one-handed alley-oop/layup hybrid was insane. A couple of baseline fadeaways were seemingly impossible shots, and he drilled them. But the 14 misses were inexcusable.
It all makes you wonder why so many people are enamored with this guy. Why is there a chucklefest when he dismisses reporters with a condescending tone that would make even Bill Belichick blush? Why is a 13-of-27 shooting night celebrated with great enthusiasm when it was as big of a reason as any that the Lakers face elimination as they fly home? And why doesn't Kobe seem eager to seize the moment as a true leader of his team?
"Just man up and play," he said when asked about what he can tell his teammates to stay focused in Game 6 and not worry about potential elimination. "What the hell's the big deal? If I have to say something to them, then we don't deserve to be champions."
Another one-man show like the one on Sunday night, and the Lakers won't be.