LOS ANGELES (AP) - The scowl was gone, replaced in this game with a look that alternated between frustration and just plain surprise. Not a lot was going right Sunday night for Kobe Bryant, who not only missed his own game winning shot in Game 2 but had to watch another that came agonizingly close to sending the Los Angeles Lakers to Orlando with the NBA finals all even.
Superstars aren't supposed to have off nights, and their teams are supposed to lose when they do. Maybe that's why the final look on Bryant's face as he walked off the court at Staples Center seemed to be more one of relief than anything else.
His Lakers had escaped with an ugly overtime win in a game the Magic had every chance to steal. They were heading to Florida up 2-0 and in control of their own destiny.
Yet Bryant was acting like someone had just kicked his dog.
"What's there to be happy about?" Bryant asked. "The job's not finished."
Not yet, but the Lakers are halfway to the championship that Bryant desperately covets to validate his own legacy. He didn't go out and win this game for them like he did when he scored 40 points in Game 1, but they wouldn't have won it without him either.
Being a superstar, though, means taking responsibility for your team. And Bryant found a lot not to like about a win his teammates seemed to like a lot.
He blamed himself for not reading coverages as well as he did in Game 1. He was upset that he and his teammates let the Magic have so many open shots.
And, of course, superstars aren't supposed to have nearly as many turnovers (seven) as they do baskets (10).
"I don't think Kobe had a good game at all as far as his standards go," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers managed to win despite that, though this game won't be talked about when the subject of classic championship games comes up. About all it had going for it was that it was close with a lot of lead changes.
But there were no style points at stake. Just a win in one column, and a loss in another.
"I think they played extremely well and we played well enough to win," Bryant said.
Bryant actually had a chance to make it a memorable night, but his short jumper to win in the final seconds of regulation was blocked from behind by Hedo Turkoglu. Then came a play that would live in NBA lore had it worked.
It didn't, much to the relief of Jack Nicholson and the rest of the beautiful people at courtside. They held their breath as Turkoglu tossed a perfect lob pass to Courtney Lee with 0.6 seconds left and his layup fell off the front rim.
Bryant didn't like what he was seeing, but he appreciated the thought behind it.
"It was just a brilliant play," he said. "It was just a very, very smart play that he (Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy) drew up."
The Lakers would open the game up some in overtime, but with Bryant being double-teamed every time he got the ball he wasn't the big factor. He scored only two of the team's 13 points in overtime, though his pass to Pau Gasol for a 3-point play gave the Lakers some breathing room.
The talk all week had been how focused Bryant was on winning this championship. Much of it was fed by Bryant himself, who gave terse answers to questions, kept a permanent scowl on his face, and could barely allow himself to savor a dominating win in Game 1.
This is his team and his finals to win, something he has repeatedly made clear since being embarrassed by the Boston Celtics in last year's final. If there is really something to being on a mission, Bryant has been on one for a year now as he chases his first ring without Shaquille O'Neal playing alongside him.
He can't do it alone, though, something Bryant has been slow to realize over the years. There have been times in his career - and a lot of them - when he tried to take over games by himself, with mixed results.
Perhaps watching LeBron James do everything humanly possible against the Magic and still lose made an impression on Bryant. If not, the play of Gasol and Lamar Odom certainly should.
He's still the superstar and he's the one who will always get the shot at the end of the game. But he's also a leader who now seems comfortable letting others share the load.
They did on this night, and the Lakers won because of it. Maybe some day Bryant will look back and smile about it.
But that time isn't now.
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