Former Los Angeles Lakers guard Kareem Rush is hardly the player most fans think of when reminiscing about the team’s various acts of clutch heroics throughout the years. But on Feb. 25, 2004, Kobe Bryant led a run that concluded with a display of icy veins from Rush as he hit a game-winner against the Denver Nuggets.
Bryant scored 35 points on the night as he continued his torrid bucket-getting pace that season, and also notched 10 assists and seven rebounds to flirt with a triple-double that put Rush in the unexpected position to deliver a victory for Los Angeles.
Making Rush’s heroics even more unexpected was that they came on a team with Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Gary Payton. Even Rush himself admitted after the game that Phil Jackson wasn’t exactly intending to free him for a game-winner following a feed from then-rookie Luke Walton, via ESPN:
“The play was designed for Kobe to create something,” Rush said, “and he got doubled. I’m running around, trying to find an open spot. Luke found me and I took the shot. I’ve knocked down that shot a thousand times in my life, but I haven’t been in that position since college.”
Rush’s game-winning three gave him eight points on 3-for-5 shooting in 15 minutes off the bench. Walton finished with a truly bizarre line of two points, making his only field goal attempt, to go with five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
O’Neal also contributed to the Lakers’ victory, giving them 16 points and eight rebounds while defending the paint for four blocks, while Gary Payton contributed 14 points and eight assists to help key the victory.
Nuggets rookie Carmelo Anthony had one of the first of what would be many scoring duels with Bryant in the loss, dropping 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting to go with four rebounds and a block to surprise the more talented Lakers before ultimately falling in defeat.