Kobe Bryant: The Dunk That Changed the 2011 NBA Playoffs

Through one quarter in Game 5 of the Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets first-round NBA playoff series, nothing looked good for the defending champs.

The Lakers were supposed to sweep, but instead the series was tied and they trailed the Hornets. New Orleans had lost All-Star forward David West, but still seemed to be outplaying LA, and was even shooting 80 percent from the field in Game 5. 

And worst of all, Kobe Bryant was injured, playing timidly and mostly sitting on the bench. 

Then it happened.

As if we were watching a YouTube highlight reel of Kobe's early years, the twice-defending Finals MVP took a casual pass from Pau Gasol, blasted through the lane and exploded up and over Emeka Okafor for a poster dunk.

The slam came as a surprise to Okafor as much as it did the Staples Center crowd. In a split second, it seemed like every fan did a double take, made sure Kobe wasn't wearing No. 8 and a mini-fro, then erupted in unison.

Call it assertive; call it a throwback, or a surprise.

The truth is, Kobe's dunk on Emeka Okafor instantly changed the playoffs. The energy of the crowd went from zero to 60 in one second and continued to rise for the duration of the game, which the Lakers went on to win.

Kobe and his teammates suddenly found the confidence that seemed to be missing for the past week. Los Angeles went on to win Game 6 convincingly, and now no one in the West wants a piece of the Lakers. 

How frequently do players alter the course of an entire series on one play?

Some say Kevin McHale's clothesline of LA's Kurt Rambis turned the 1984 Finals in the Celtics' favor. In baseball, Jim Leyritz's home run in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series completely swung the momentum from the Braves to the Yankees.

Kobe's dunk is the latest example, albeit a first-round example, but I believe the momentum from this play will carry Los A...

About the Author