LOS ANGELES The greatest closer in the NBA instead focused on being a quick starter in Game 5.
Kobe Bryant's teammates picked up the slack from there, and that's why the Los Angeles Lakers are still alive in the NBA finals.
A great night from the MVP won't do the Lakers much good as they try to become the first NBA team to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. What the Lakers really need is a few good nights from the rest of the team.
"A lot of people say, 'Kobe, you have to go out for 40 or 50,' but that's not how we play," Bryant said. "That's not what's going to win championships. We've got to stick together, ride this out as a unit, and that's what we're going to do."
It worked just fine Sunday night in Los Angeles, where the Lakers had four other players in double figures in their 103-98 victory that trimmed the Celtics' lead in the series to 3-2. But the Lakers' role players haven't shown they can come through in Boston, and if they don't today, they won't get another chance.
"We're very prepared because we know we're going to have to do that," forward Lamar Odom said. "We're not going to beat them if it's not balanced, so it's going to help him free his game up at the end of the game if it's balanced scoring because guys tend to stick with you a little bit more when you've been aggressive throughout the game.
"He's going to have spots to take over, but yet it's going to help us take shots at the end of the game just from being aggressive throughout the game."
Odom finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Pau Gasol added 19 points and 13 boards, Derek Fisher scored 15 points, and reserve Jordan Farmar chipped in 11.
Bryant led the Lakers with 25, but he was largely quiet after the first quarter, when he scored 15. He finished just 8-of-21 from the field, and in recent years that would have guaranteed a Los Angeles loss.
"You're not going to shoot the ball too well against this team because they're going to throw everybody at you," Bryant said. "But the important thing for me is to push the buttons at the right time. That's the key, is setting the tone if we're going through a drought, when is it time to make the correct play and generate energy for our ballclub? That's really become my role now more so than in the past, where it was 35, 40 points."
Role players usually play better at home. If Bryant plans to stick to his unselfish ways, his supporting cast needs to prove it can step up across the country.
Gasol totaled only seven points in the second halves of the Lakers' Games 1 and 2 losses. The bench, thought to be an advantage for Los Angeles, was outscored in both games and has been largely outplayed in the series.
Outside of Farmar, the rest of the Lakers' reserves combined for only six points in Game 5.
"I think that obviously we'd like to have our bench give us a better bump than that, but right now their bench is playing a little bit better than ours is, and we've got some guys performing off the bench but not the unit," coach Phil Jackson said. "We're going to have to find a better way to do that in Game 6 if we're going to survive."
Bryant has no choice but to give the reserves a chance. The Celtics defend him well, holding him to 42 percent shooting and 26.4 points per game in the finals after he averaged 31.9, tops in the postseason, through the first three rounds.
He could probably get something closer to his usual numbers if he forced the action, but he insists he won't. Doing so got Bryant two scoring titles and two first-round exits the last two seasons, and he likes this way better.
"Could I force myself to get 40? Yeah. But is that better for our ballclub? No," Bryant said. "We've got guys open, I'm going to move the ball and do what I need to do."