Kobe Bryant has channeled Michael Jordan so many times, it no longer is ridiculous to compare the two.
Bryant's three-pointer with 2.1 seconds to play in the fourth quarter last night lifted the Los Angeles Lakers into a tie with the Detroit Pistons and pushed Game 2 of the NBA final to overtime.
Once in the extra period, the Lakers' two biggest stars, Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, flexed their muscles. It all amounted to a nerve-racking 99-91 victory for the Lakers, sending the relieved Staples Center crowd into a frenzy and tying this series at a game apiece.
"It's probably the biggest shot I've hit in my (NBA) career," said Bryant, who was guarded by Richard (Rip) Hamilton on the crucial play. "But personally, it's second behind the shot I hit to beat Rip in high school."
The series now will shift to the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., for Games 3, 4 and 5. The Lakers definitely dodged a bullet last night, since no team in the history of the final has won the championship after losing the first two games at home.
"God smiled on us," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose club blew an 11-point, third-quarter lead.
Where would the Lakers be this morning if Bryant, perhaps the most beleaguered player in sports because of the rape charges he's facing in Colorado, didn't have ice water in his veins every time he steps on a basketball court?
Bryant had a game-high 33 points, Shaq added 29, and unsung Luke Walton provided a spark with seven points, eight assists and five rebounds.
"Maybe insanity is the best excuse," said Jackson when asked what had prompted him to use Walton, who didn't play in Game 1. "He was the player of the game."
Added Walton non-chalantly, "I've always loved big games."
Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 27 points, while Richard Hamilton had 26.
"A great player (Bryant) made a great shot," dejected Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "Then in overtime we lost our poise. We're crushed. We had a winnable game."
The Lakers were supposed to be the hyper-motivated ones last night, for insults real and imagined.
During Game 1 on Sunday an ABC microphone placed in the Pistons' huddle picked up Brown saying, "You can get any shot you want. The Lakers aren't guarding anyone."
Brown's words were not meant to insult the Lakers, but in the wake of their 87-75 loss, Jackson took advantage.
"(Jackson) played (Brown's assessment) back for us four or five times (during a team meeting on Monday)," veteran Lakers forward Karl Malone said.
Times sure have changed since former Raptors coach Butch Carter balked at the notion of wearing a microphone during a national broadcast in 2000.
Carter argued that being miked up was far too intrusive as he said things like, "You know what, guys? I just might sue Marcus Camby."
Brown said he had no problem with being miked.
"If that's what it takes to motivate the Lakers, then I'll apologize to my team," Brown said.
No apologies were necessary after such an entertaining, physical, last-man-standing type of game.
Malone tweaked his sore right knee in the second quarter when he accidentally ran into a teammate, but he returned after a visible argument with the Lakers' medical staff. Shaq fell over the Pistons' Ben Wallace early in the third quarter and even though plates broke in San Diego as the two crashed to the court, neither player was injured.
Now the question is whether the Pistons' psyche has been injured after losing in such a painful, frantic way.
Frantic for everyone except Bryant, that is.
"I actually was waiting for them to foul me, so maybe I could get a four-point play," Bryant said of his heroic shot.
All the great ones are greedy. Jordan was, too.