Kobe Bryant's Trust Rewarded

Kobe gave the ball to struggling teammates and was given back a win.

With five minutes left in the third quarter of game five, the Denver Nuggets made a little run and moved ahead by seven points. And all through Los Angeles fans were saying to their televisions, “Okay Kobe, it’s been great you’ve been sharing the ball with your teammates and all, but now it’s time to take over.”

On the next trip down the court, Kobe Bryant passed to Shannon Brown for a layup.

That pattern continued through the final buzzer. At the point in the game when most superstars would have tried to put the team on their shoulders and do it all, Kobe played decoy. He trusted teammates that for the past four games have largely let him down by missing shots and defensive assignments. For a player who has been caught in a catch-22 of criticism — either he is a ball hog or he isn’t trying to do enough — Kobe hit just the right notes and the Lakers looked like a team that has five more wins in it.

The Lakers scored 19 points off of Kobe passes in game five, while Kobe’s scoring dropped from a 36.8 average in the first four games to 22 points in game five. Kobe’s faith in his teammates was rewarded — In the fourth quarter, Lakers not wearing the #24 were 7 of 11 from the field (Kobe didn’t make a shot in five tries).

But it wasn’t just that Kobe was passing, it was how he was doing it. Denver decided to double team Kobe whenever and wherever he touched the ball. Most players see the double team coming and move the ball right away to their outlet. In game five Kobe let the players come to them, pulled them out far away from the play, then made a pass that gave his teammates a little longer in the four-on-three matchup. He always found the open man.

Kobe’s passing was infectious. For example, the trip down after Kobe hit Brown for the aforementioned layup, Pau Gasol hit Brown for the thunderous dunk over Chris “Birdman” Anderson that sparked the change in momentum. The next Lakers possession Trevor Ariza assisted on a Lamar Odom three that tied the game.

Kobe Bryant is a lightning rod of criticism, one of the most polarizing figures in sports. With that comes people questioning his leadership, calling him aloof and concerned only about his stats and his image. His recent documentary with Spike Lee has been mocked for its self-consciousness.

But through it all, Kobe is a basketball savant and a true team leader. He did it in Barcelona with that Gold Medal team. And Kobe was a leader in the best way possible Wednesday night. He led with trust and faith that his teammates would be there. He led by pointing to them where to get on the floor for the play he already knew was coming. He led by letting others take the lead in key moments.

His faith and trust was rewarded, and now likely he will be rewarded with another trip to the finals. And another shot at redemption.

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