On this date: Kobe Bryant erupts to lead Lakers to sweep of Kings
After a desultory regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers were suddenly looking physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy as the 2001 NBA Playoffs opened.
But to successfully defend their world championship, they would have to go through a gauntlet in the Western Conference playoffs.
L.A. swept the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that was almost identical to the one that almost knocked it out of the conference finals the prior year, in the first round and moved on to play the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings were led by Chris Webber, a dark horse MVP candidate, and they had a freewheeling offense that was a sneak preview of how NBA basketball would be played today.
Shaquille O’Neal was a one-man wrecking crew in the first two games, and the Lakers took a 2-0 series lead.
But when the series moved up north to the state capital, the Kings managed to contain the big fella and hold him under his season averages.
That’s when Kobe Bryant happened.
After playing well but holding back a bit in the Lakers’ first five postseason games, he uncorked 36 points, a new career playoff-high, in Game 3 to lead them to a 103-81 win.
In Game 4, the Kings were feisty, holding a lead for much of the afternoon, but Bryant wanted to cut their hearts out right then and there.
He went into volcano mode by scoring 48 points on 15-of-29 shooting from the field and 17-of-19 from the free-throw line to guide his team to a 119-113 win and a sweep.
Even after O’Neal fouled out down the stretch, Bryant scored six points in the final two minutes to seal the victory.
As it turned out, he and his team were just getting started.