The Lakers trailed. The clock ticked away. The crowd roared.
So, of course, you knew Kobe Bryant had the ball. You knew Bryant would shoot. You knew Bryant would score. You knew Bryant would save the day.
The Lakers’ 118-116 win Friday over the Toronto Raptors featured all of that. Bryant’s 41 points and 12 assists marked the second consecutive game he logged such numbers, marking the first time since Jerry West that a Laker ever did that. Bryant’s two-handed dunk that gave the Lakers a 117-115 lead with 10.6 seconds left marked the second time in a week he threw one down at the rim to help seal a game. Bryant’s performance itself marked the fourth time in four games this week where he provided high volume scoring and made it look all so easy.
How does Bryant do it?
“The diet has a lot to do with it to be honest with you,” Bryant said. “I think it’s really impacted my energy level.”
It sure has.
By losing 16 pounds this offseason, Bryant can move much quicker. By eliminating all the junk food, Bryant has more stamina to put on such a taxing workload. By maintaining his insatiable drive, Bryant has everything he needs to push himself forward.
“Anybody that I line up against on any given night, I don’t think they’re going to be able to outwill me,” Bryant said. “I just refuse to believe that.”
The Lakers sure needed that determination.
They had trailed by as many as 15 points. Aside from Dwight Howard’s five blocks and constant shot altering, no one else on the Lakers remained as defensively disciplined. The likes of Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark and Steve Blake shot a combined 8 of 31 from the field.
“Damn are you kidding again?'” Bryant recalled saying aloud. “During the game I don’t know if we collectively have the energy to do this again.'”
That applied to himself, too.
Bryant has nursed a funny bone injury to his right elbow for the past three days. He had averaged 40 minutes per game in the last three contests. All those variables contributed to Bryant feeling sluggish at morning shootaround.
“I couldn’t get out on the court,” Bryant said. “I couldn’t move. My shoulders were sore. My body was sore.”
But enhanced treatment from Lakers physical therapist Judy Seto did the trick.
It paid off, as Bryant scored 11 points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“In the fourth quarter,” Howard said, “it’s Kobe time.”
Indeed it is.
Bryant made three 3-pointers in the last 1:41 of regulation to ensure overtime. He then capped off extra regulation with his two-handed dunk to excite the Staples Center crowd once again.
“This year is definitely the best I’ve seen him play,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said. “He’s working hard and never give up on himself. Don’t cut your career short by listening to other people saying you’re getting older. You can do it. He’s proving that right now.”
So much that Howard joked the 34-year-old Bryant should’ve walked off to the court with George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” playing. So as Bryant exited the training room to address the media, Howard sang the song.
“Vino was pouring it on tonight,” Bryant said. “How many of these cheesy one-liners can I come up with? What the hell.”
But Bryant wasn’t entirely happy, particularly with his nine turnovers.
“I had to man up,” he said, “The turnovers I had were tired turnovers, not protecting the ball and being sloppy with it because I was fatigued.”
Bryant also didn’t like Rudy Gay’s reaction after Bryant took a few hard charges.
“Rudy asked me at the free throw line if I was all right,” Bryant said. “I took offense to it don’t ask me if I’m okay. Seriously, that’s an insult.”
Which begs the question: how long can Bryant hold this up?
“Hell if I know,” he said.
But he’s not afraid of the challenge in guiding the Lakers into the postseason. The Lakers (32-31) reached the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 20 when the Lakers went 6-5 with a win over Brooklyn in what marked Mike D’Antoni’s first game as the Lakers’ coach.
“Only thing I fear is bees,” Bryant said. “I don’t f— with bees, man. Other than that, I’m not afraid of nothing.”
And with that, Bryant displayed his greatness once again, a never-ending sequence that seemingly never ends and never gets old.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org