LOS ANGELES -- Think Kobe Bryant likes the spotlight?
Think he'd pass up a chance to have one of his more impressive games of the young postseason just when the world expects him to have one of his most trying?
Tuesday night in the Lakers' must-have Game 5 win over New Orleans, the veteran showman dusted off a few vintage Kobe moves, displaying some of his most explosive and athletic moves since ... yes, his full-throttle MVP performance at the All-Star Game.
On a bum wheel.
Whatever we don't know about Bryant's bent left ankle figures to remain a secret for now.
What we know about Bryant after the 106-90 victory at Staples Center is what we've known all along. He likes it when people think he can't.
Before the game, the mysterious condition of his foot -- Kobe refused even to have it X-rayed -- had Los Angeles fans chewing nervously on their No. 24 jerseys.
The only thing for sure was that Bryant would try to play. Beforehand, his backup, Shannon Brown, said he was prepared to play more minutes, but wasn't counting on it.
"Knowing him, he'll will himself out there, man," Brown said.
Knowing him, he would do more than that. After spending most of the first half faking drives and pulling up for jump shots, Bryant quit playing possum with the Lakers down 44-40. He took a pass at the foul line, drove the lane and launched himself over 6-foot-10 center Emeka Okafor for a violent dunk. Moments later he tied the score with a spinning -- ankle-what-ankle? -- move from the right side.
Without medical diagnosis, nor even much description from Bryant, it's hard to know the extent of the ankle damage -- except to note that it seemed more of a "defense sprain."
That is, Bryant's limitations were solely on that side of the court. Trevor Ariza, Willie Green and Chris Paul all took advantage of Bryant's lateral deficiencies to drive around him, or step away.
By the second half, the Lakers found someone Bryant could stay with -- jump-shooting Italian Marco Belinelli. Of course, no one could stay with Bryant, either.
When Bryant knew where he was going, he simply played his game, sinking eight of a modest 13 shots for an efficient, team-high 19 points.
For second-half punctuation, he slashed through the lane from the right side, and slammed the ball home with his left hand.
With Bryant picking his spots, and not dominating the ball, his teammates also benefited, usually running the offense through their big men.
The result was the team's best game of the series -- six players in double-figures.
In retrospect, New Orleans coach Monty Williams seemed prescient in his pregame assessment of playing a less-than-whole Bryant.
"We've seen him play with a broken finger, come back from knee (problems)," said Williams. "He has the ability to play with pain that...most people wouldn't even clock in. Very few guys can play with injuries at a very high level."
Even fewer would take the opportunity to add to their mystique, gritting their teeth, and producing highlight-quality dunks after leaving the arena two days before on crutches.
Think Phil Jackson knows his Kobe Bryant?
Before the game, the Lakers coach admitted it wouldn't be easy to take a hobbled Bryant off the floor.
Jackson even joked about.
"Do you have that hook from the Apollo Theater that I can use?" he said.
There's no business like show business.