No. 5: Kobe Bryant vs. Derek Anderson — Apr. 14, 2004
By 2003-04, Kobe Bryant had long established himself as a cerebral late-game scorer, capable of contorting his body and tightroping his way into shots that few on planet Earth could hit.
It just so happened that with a Pacific Division title on the line, Bryant wanted to showcase that adroit ability twice on the same night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
It’s a sequence that’s almost difficult to describe. With the Lakers down three, and under ten seconds to go, the Blazers sent Ruben Patterson — conveniently nicknamed the “Kobe Stopper” — to hold off Bryant on the final attempt. Credit to Patterson; he stuck to Bryant like a bad reputation, his phone-booth defense matching Bryant step-for-step.
And then, this happened.
The Blazers managed to summon the mental fortitude needed to nearly put the game away, before Bryant hammered the second nail to the coffin. It was a simple sideline zipper action that freed Bryant for a game-winning triple.
Along the way, it laid the groundwork for one of the greatest moments of Bryant’s career.
What often gets lost in the shuffle of that game is that the Blazers, namely Derek Anderson, had been channeling his own version of “Mamba Mentality.”
Anderson poured in 11 fourth quarter points (on 5-of-7), to Bryant’s 12, with eerily similar contested perimeter shots, often exploiting O’Neal’s reluctance to move out on the perimeter, and working off-ball in a way that can only leave one imagining that a young CJ McCollum was somewhere scribbling notes.
A sight to see it was. It marked one of the great regular season duels of the Blazers-Lakers mid-2000s battles.