When many were just about to rank him as the greatest since Michael Jordan and applaud him in renewal of a flourishing legacy, first there’s some things to consider. Such as, how he expects to win a title without Shaquille O’Neal and expects to earn back some glorious applause and trust among fans in the latest letdown.

Sorry Kobe, you are in big trouble.

Everywhere you hear people raving about the Lakers' recent struggles in the closing minutes of Game Three of the Finals. All you hear are remarks and articles from the press, bashing Kobe.

All you hear is criticism from fans, and an unpleasant Kobe talk of fatigue and lack of energy. For once, he wasn’t an intimidating, menace on the court. Instead, on a tiresome night, Kobe was weary, epitomizing fatigue moods like in the Denver series.

Since Bryant’s facial expressions and hideous creature impersonations have subsided, the Lakers aren’t the same fundamentally sound championship team, as they were entering this series.

His pesky shots aren’t a factor or intimidating, mainly because the Magic stared him down directly, not giving him enough space to explode offensively.

Much of the night, Bryant encountered frustration and inevitable traps, enduring double teams, and was inhibited late for living up to his stylish approach of finishing games relentlessly.

Meanwhile, closing out to capture another victory wasn’t the scenario. Instead, failure convinced us that if Bryant obscures his fierce teeth, lacking intensity and dynamic accountability in troubling situations, the Lakers are in trouble. But in the meantime, the Lakers goofed up, enough to make us ponder if they are related to Goofy at Disney World.

In the first quarter, it seemed Bryant was well on his way of replicating solid shooting efforts from Game One, scoring a mere 17 points. But he couldn’t kidnap, Mickey Mouse or Superman’s cape, which allowed the Magic to finally produce as they have in the regular-season and the postseason.

As most know, the Magic shot a staggering 62.5 percent, highest ever in a NBA Finals game. Game Three included prevalence in Orlando's first ever win in a Finals game, magically happening in their 20-year existence.

Of late, the story hasn't been about how magical the Magic were advancing to the Finals, or even winning games.

Still, as usual, everything revolves around Bryant, as the media is curious to know if he can win with Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq didn’t think it was possible a year ago in his rap song, anxious to know if he could solidify and protect his legacy.

The media is fascinated to know if Kobe could conquer a long journey and muster the Lakers 15th title as well as emboldening his team to win it all for Phil Jackson, who’s seeking his 10th title, which would make him the winningest of all time.

Before the Lakers win anything, energetic body language from Bryant will be an essential part, if they are seeking a title. Remember, they are trying to avoid the humiliating memories of a pitiful loss that left Bryant bitter, as he's now returning, trying to redeem and seize a fourth title.

If so, it should silence critics, who have censured him ever since the departure of Shaq. Or before then, when rape charges were pending against Bryant, later dismissed, which drew criticism and more doubters.

Sure, Bryant would like to redo a horrible shooting night, and replace it with superb shooting. Too bad, as he managed to outlast and outscore the Magic in the first quarter on scorching shooting that cooled off quickly.

Once again Bryant was disappointing, still settling for 31 points to lead all Lakers scores, despite awful shooting. He missed myriad of tough shots that he normally buries on a night he made 11-of-25 shots including 15 of his final 19 shots, and five free-throw misses, a rarity for the game’s greatest closer in uncomfortable times.

Kobe lives for tense moments, when the game is on the line, but not this time. Much was on the line in the closing minutes, and there were no teeth-clenching or malign facial expressions for intimidating the Magic, who knew what was at stake.

Game Three was a must-needed win, a custom they were supposed to follow, protecting home court with well-balanced shooting, better than what Bryant produced.

Anytime Bryant has two consecutive substandard shooting games, expectations start diminishing. Then, cause of concern starts enlarging, wondering what’s wrong with Kobe. Fatigue has much to do with his shooting debacles, as miserable misfiring of shots absorbs blame.

Yes, Kobe has been blamed for the Lakers bleak loss.

So, the leader of the Lakers, the must-needed superstar, the world’s most explosive guard, the greatest player on the plant maybe? He had a bad night.

Remember in the press conference following the meltdown, he mentioned that his rhythm was off at the charity strike, which could have decided differently.

He never brought his tiger growl on a perfect night when Tiger Woods, the world’s greatest golfer and Magic season-ticket holder was in attendance, watching a frustrated and weary Kobe waste the chance of a 3-0 lead in the series.

We know he’s the greatest closer, but we don’t know if he’s the greatest champ, until he wins without Shaq. Folks don’t panic, remain unflappable.

The Lakers will win the series, but before considering another title, Bryant will have to raise his intensity level late in the game and live up to his aptitude as the greatest finisher to ever close out a game, mostly coming from the free-throw line or inexplicable shot-making.

But he can’t afford to blow critical shots down the stretch, like muffing three-point attempts late on Tuesday. Surely, as we all know, Bryant will bounce back with a wonderful shooting performance, beautifying the world’s attention again.

Hopefully, the teeth-clenching, growling, and frightening facial features will have an affect. If so, then the Lakers are who we thought they were; a championship threat close to ruining magical moments.

A title is based on how well Kobe plays, and that’s the final truth.


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