What a spectacular game Kobe Bryant played on Tuesday night at STAPLES, literally dragging his teammates across the finish line of a nail-biter that L.A. pulled out 105-103 despite trailing for most of the game.
Bryant scored 18 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, set up the biggest shot of the game – a go-ahead three by Derek Fisher with 2:30 to play – with one of his four dimes, grabbed six rebounds including the game-clincher off a missed free throw and played outstanding defense on Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. He also made 12-of-13 free throws, including 9-of-9 in the fourth, and hit 2-of-3 three pointers.
After the game, Bryant offered some reflection, talked about his teammates, vowed not to get another technical foul, addressed Jerry West’s comments regarding him and LeBron James and more.
Here’s a full transcript of Bryant’s comments from the postgame podium:
Q. Can you talk about your scoring performance tonight, where did you get the energy level coming off of a seven game series with Houston to find that energy to overtake the Nuggets in the end?
BRYANT: Just had to gut it out. It was a tough game. We were down virtually the whole game. So I just had to dig deep a little bit, see if we can’t pull it out.
Q. Any frustration again with a bit of a slow start at the start of this game for you as far as team just not getting out the start that I know you’re looking for?
BRYANT: You know, it’s a part of basketball. I mean, it’s just part of the game. Some games you’ll get out to a quick start, some games not. I think the thing we did better in this game is that we didn’t allow them to go on a huge run and put us in too big of a deficit. We kept it at seven, kept it at eight and nine. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Playoff basketball you see that happening all the time. I think that’s where we’ve improved from the last series. Houston, we virtually capitulated in the first quarter. That didn’t happen tonight.
Q. Can you tell us how your finger is, what happened. And, additionally, toughness, it seemed like the Nuggets were kind of out toughing you early and the team kind of responded and obviously pulled out the victory. Can you talk about how physical the game was?
BRYANT: The finger is the same. It’s the same one I did against Cleveland. Tried to go without tape tonight. Just got caught with the ball, popped it out, popped it right back in place. Went to the bench, taped it up, good to go. In terms of physicality of the game. It’s playoff basketball. Guys bump a little bit. I felt like the first half their frontcourt really dominated us. During the second half I felt we did a much better job.
Q. You guarded Chauncey in the beginning and J.R. in the middle and Carmelo at the end. Were you asking for those and had you just basically made the decision that this might be a night that you were going to have to pull everybody kind of through this one?
BRYANT: Yeah, I mean, once I sensed we didn’t have the energy, I had to take it upon myself to try to lead by example. And there are certain parts in a game where Chauncey’s he’s in attack mode. And I know when those are and I try to guard him, try to do the best job I can on him. The same thing with J.R., Melo got hot and Trevor was in foul trouble and I had to go down there and wrestle with a bear. It’s just part of my responsibilities to this team.
Q. Kobe, talk capitulation, when you’re down 13 was there an air of desperation at all, or the team feeding off the Game 7 furry understood what it was to come back and keep rallying?
BRYANT: A little bit of desperation. You have to have that. It’s a sense of urgency it’s not sit back and relax, let the game come to us. Now is the time, the moment, what we’ve been waiting for all year. And, yeah, so it was a little bit of desperation.
Q. Are you concerned with your five technicals now in the playoffs?
BRYANT: I won’t get another one.
Q. You don’t have to be any more careful?
BRYANT: I won’t get another one.
Q. Did you read Jerry West’s quotes today and did they inspire you? How did you react to that?
BRYANT: I didn’t at all. I’ve been telling you guys for years that that’s not something that I’m concerned with at all.
Q. But it’s Jerry West…
BRYANT: I understand that. But that’s not my goal, that’s not my mission. If I wanted to go out there and put up 35 points a night I could do that. That’s not my mission. My mission is to win a championship. And the debate of who is the best player, that’s going to go on for whatever. That’s not something that I concern myself with. Although, I love Jerry West to death, obviously everybody knows that.
Q. In a similar vein, winning another championship would solidify your reputation, your stature, so to speak, so in a way you could use this to feed off of…
BRYANT: I’ll use it as motivation, certainly. But it’s not something that for years the challenge has been winning another championship. And that’s the challenge that I’ve accepted. It hasn’t been can you stay on top as the best individual basketball player. That’s not something that’s driven me. It’s winning another championship. Although, I do enjoy the challenge of having another player come along to challenge me for that top spot. That’s always fun.
Q. You’re at the Olympics. You got to know Carmelo as a player and as a friend. You saw him tonight. What were some things in your eyes that he was doing just to be so dominant offensively?
BRYANT: He’s improved his game tremendously. I think as a team they’ve helped him become a better basketball player, because they’re getting him a lot of easy opportunities so he doesn’t have to work for it himself and create opportunities himself all the time, which makes him more dangerous. He’s a hell of a basketball player.
Q. Bynum had a tough night. Do you think he’ll be able to bounce back Thursday?
BRYANT: He’ll do great. He did good tonight. Couple of fouls, put him out of the game a little bit. But I felt like the time he was in there he gave us the energy that we needed. He didn’t give up any easy buckets. He sacrificed himself to prevent easy opportunities by fouling hard. And that’s what we need him to do. We need him to protect the paint.
Q. In your experience playing against opponents over the years, when they get that close to stealing a game and fail to close down the stretch, do you think it has any kind of a mental effect or carry over effect for the rest of the series for them?
BRYANT: I don’t think it will. I don’t think it will. I think they’ll come back even harder on Thursday and they had an opportunity to get one, it didn’t happen. I think they’ll come back with a lot of energy and ready to go. But we will, too.
Q. There’s that sense that you had to come up with a night like this, 40 point night tonight to get the victory. Are you gearing up? Do you think it will take three more nights like that for you? Do you feel like you’ve got another three nights?
BRYANT: Me scoring is a bonus. It’s not like ’05 or ’06 where it’s something I needed to do. It’s an added bonus. If I get hot and score 40, 45 points, whatever it is, it’s an added feature to our team. A night like tonight, it’s something we needed. But that’s not the norm. That’s not the norm at all. If I do it it’s an added bonus. If I don’t, if I score like in Game 7, we didn’t need it. But tonight we did.
Q. Will you have to carry the scoring load like this again?
BRYANT: Hopefully not. But if there’s something that’s needed, then that’s something that I have to be prepared to do.
Q. Trevor chased Carmelo for most of the game. What did you think of his game and specifically the play he made there with the steal at the end?
BRYANT: The steal that he made was terrific. It was a great read by him. You can’t fault the passer in that situation, because Trevor really just made a great read and a heck of a play. I felt like he did okay on Carmelo. And Carmelo is just a phenomenal offensive player, and Trevor hasn’t had a chance to play against him too much. So I think there’s some things that he’ll learn from this game to carry over to the next one.
Q. Can you talk about what you got from Fisher tonight?
BRYANT: Big shots. Big shots. He’s the ultimate professional. It’s hard for guys that when they don’t get a lot of touches or called upon to make a lot of plays or not rhythm and all of a sudden get that ball in the corner and knock it down like they’ve been in rhythm all game. That’s very, very tough to do. Your accuracy, your efficiency has to be through the roof to get that one shot and nail it. He’s been doing that his whole career.