What was supposed to be one of Kobe Bryant's most iconic moments ended up being a legacy tarnishing game; one where the epitome of competitiveness showed a different side of himself.
Kobe "quit" on the Lakers
Kobe was so many things. But in no way was he a quitter. He approached every practice, every shootaround, and every game with the same mentality -- no matter who was on the other side, taking it easy was never an option.
But to everyone's surprise, that's exactly what he did in Game 7 of the Lakers' first-round matchup against the Phoenix Suns in 2006.
"Lots of people who were critical of me didn't even watch the game," Bryant said.
The seventh-seeded Lakers were up 3-1 in the series when the No.2 seed Suns won two in a row to force a Game 7 in Phoenix. Coming off a 50-point Game 6, everyone expected Bryant would do much of the same in a win-or-go-home game. And by halftime, the Lakers superstar was on the track of doing so -- he had 23 points on 8-for-13 from the field despite the Suns being up 60-45.
But then, out of nowhere, Kobe decided he wasn't going to shoot anymore.
"To get back in the game, we needed somebody else to start making shots," Bryant said years later. "I was just trying to get the other guys going, turn the momentum around."
Why did he do it?
In the Lakers' previous three wins of the series, Kobe had only averaged 23.3 points and 6.7 assists on 18.7 FGAs. But the trio of Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, and Kwame Brown combined for 43 points per game.
Whenever Bryant decided to shoot more -- he averaged 24.3 FGAs in three losses leading up to Game 7 -- the Suns would beat the Lakers. So instead of taking over the game, Kobe tried to get everyone else involved and beat the Suns by playing team basketball. The only issue is that none of his teammates showed up.
Kobe finished the game with 24 points on 8-for-16 from the floor. The rest of the team shot 32%, and the aforementioned trio shot a combined 13-37.
So the proven approach didn't work. And even though it made sense to try it in a series-decisive game, the question remains why didn't Bryant disregard the game plan and do what he did best which is score the basketball?
As a result, the Lakers became the eighth NBA team to blow a 3-1 series lead. Had Kobe played his normal second half, that could've been prevented.