Kobe Bryant's first-quarter exit could have spelled disaster, but instead the Los Angeles Lakers used it as an opportunity to showcase their diversity.
The All-Star guard, averaging 29 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.33 blocked shots in the postseason, went sprawling on a sprained left ankle with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter.
Veterans Ron Harper and Glen Rice quietly stepped in to fill the void, scoring 21 points apiece to back up Shaquille O'Neal's second consecutive 40-point performance in the Lakers' 111-104 victory over Indiana.
Rice hit 5-of-6 from three-point range and scored the last eight points of the first half for the Lakers in Friday's National Basketball Association Finals game.
Even when he realized that the pain in his ankle wouldn't allow him to continue, Bryant said he wasn't worried.
"Glen came in the locker room at halftime, said they were ready to play. Ron came in and said he was going to step up," Bryant said.
"He shifted back to Cleveland mode tonight," Bryant joked of Harper, who opened his career in Cleveland in 1985-1986, when he averaged 22.9 points in the regular season.
A decade later, Harper played a key-supporting role in three Chicago Bulls championship teams, guided by current Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
"They have guys who have been around a long time," said Indiana's Mark Jackson. "Those are not newcomers. Those are guys who have done it in other uniforms. They did what they were supposed to do. We're disappointed we didn't capitalize on it."
Indiana coach Larry Bird admitted he wasn't expecting Harper and Rice to compensate for Bryant’s absence successfully.
Lakers coach Jackson said his absence was felt more by the team on the defensive end.
"It's obvious that we have an offense that generates from whoever is playing that position," he said. "With Kobe out of the ball game, there's some special things that we do on occasion that we were unable to run.
"We missed that penetration. Ron picked that part up and did a good job.
"I thought that we were hurt defensively. With his quickness, he has the ability to play a player and a half, and that helps us out a lot. We missed that,” – (AFP)
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