Bryant completes a head-spinning weekend with a career game, sweeping the Kings.
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2001
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant emerged triumphant from a hectic weekend that was more than most 22-year-olds could handle.
In a 48-hour span, Bryant played a phenomenal game, rushed home to Los Angeles to check on his wife's health, then hurried back to Sacramento for another amazing performance that put the Lakers in the conference final.
Bryant set career playoff bests with 48 points and 16 rebounds Sunday as the Lakers advanced to their second Western Conference final in a row with a 119-113 victory against Sacramento, sweeping the best-of-seven series.
When he finally relaxed, Bryant could only praise the Kings and deflect the praise heaped on him for his poise under pressure from many fronts.
"We needed to be challenged like this," Bryant said. "We needed a gut-check. We needed to go into (the conference final) feeling like we're playing our best basketball. ... I just wanted to run and push myself to the point of exhaustion."
Bryant, who married Vanessa Laine last month after an engagement that began during last season's playoffs, found out hours before tipoff of Friday's Game 3 that she had been taken to an emergency room with a severe pain in her left side.
After being assured by doctors that his wife's life was not in danger, Bryant scored 36 points in the Lakers' victory and rushed home. After a relaxing day, Bryant returned to Sacramento and finished his two-game virtuoso performance.
"It wasn't a distraction at all," Bryant said. "It puts things in perspective a little bit more. You understand that this is just a game. The love that I have at home with my wife means so much to me. It's important that she stays in good health. It was a scary situation."
Bryant scored 15 in the fourth quarter as the Lakers, who won their 15th game in a row since April 1, weathered a strong effort from the Kings and advanced to face the winner of the San Antonio-Dallas series. The Spurs can advance with a win at home tonight.
After record-setting performances in the first two games of the series, Shaquille O'Neal had 25 points and 10 rebounds. He spent his second game in a row in foul trouble under constant pressure from the fired-up Kings, and fouled out with 3:09 left.
No matter: Bryant carried the offensive load with ease and flair, blowing on his hot shooting hand during one particularly impressive second-half stretch of jumpers and drives.
"It was emotionally draining, but to be able to pull through all of that as a team, it felt so good," Bryant said.