Injured ankle? What injured ankle?
Those are the questions being asked of Lakers great Kobe Bryant after the 15 year pro brushed aside the pain of an injured ankle to lead Los Angeles to a 106-90 win over the New Orleans Hornets. After rolling his foot late in game 4 and leaving the arena on crutches, the Lakers were uncertain exactly how much they would be able to get out of their star in game 5, especially when he opted not to have tests on the ankle because it didn't feel broken.
They shouldn't have worried.
"And even if it was [broke], it wouldn't have mattered," Bryant said of his foot. "I would have played anyway. So it was a waste of time. I would've had to go all the way up there and do that and then sit in 405 [Freeway] traffic for two hours."
Held in check by the Hornets in the first quarter, Kobe literally exploded in the second when he went old school with a vicious slam over New Orleans Emeka Okafor directly under the basket.
"I just had a lane to the basket," said Bryant, who went 8 for 13. "It looked like he was going to challenge me at the rim, and I decided to accept the challenge. … It's a message for us that this was important. It's time to raise up and do what we've got to do. They're not saved dunks. I don't have much of those left."
That slam both answered any lingering questions about his ankle's health and proved a spark for his teammates who went on an 8-2 run to take back the lead. Maybe the most singular play of this postseason, the slam caused the sellout crowd of over 18,000 to erupt in cheers and excitement.
"It got the crowd going," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It seemed to spark him. I thought it was a big statement. He was at the point of (saying), `That's enough."'
Whether this big win was an aberration for the Lakers, who have looked dull an uninterested often in this series, or a wake up call for the two time defending champs is yet to be determined but for one game, the champs looked like, well, the champs. They looked like an aggressive team looking to get back to the Finals.
"You hope for it, but you don't expect it," Jackson said of the Lakers' newfound aggression in Game 5. "It's your home court. This is what you play for all year, this kind of energy. I thought everyone played a little more purposefully."
Photo Courtesy of: ASSOCIATED PRESS