No, clearly, at this point he is not.

When Bryant began the fourth quarter on the bench with his team trailing by 29 points, they chanted again.

"Where … is … Kobe?" they sang even louder.

Today even the most diehard Bryant fans must be asking themselves the same thing, in wondering how far he can lead a team by himself.

"Once you taste defeat, that makes you a little tougher," said Bryant.

Other Lakers were just as deserving of the jeers.

Lamar Odom had two baskets and three turnovers and not one offensive rebound for a team that combined for a stunningly low two.

Pau Gasol had four baskets and five turnovers and the indignity of being forced into a jump ball by a guy – Garnett – using just one hand at the time.

"I thought we played on our heels from the very get-go," said Coach Phil Jackson. "They overran us… . We never met that energy all night tonight."

Before the game, if the Lakers were to lose, I was considering writing a column extolling this season's amazing turnaround and applauding them for an inspiring effort that ended at the feet of a clearly better team.

Before the game, if the Lakers were to lose, I was reminding everyone how their best inside player was in street clothes, and how Andrew Bynum's return next season should make them NBA favorites.

But after what happened in the game, how could any of us believe any of that?

They need more than Bynum. They need toughness in the middle. They needed maturity everywhere.

"We were surprised we were here, and we're glad that we had an opportunity," Jackson said. "But whenever you get this opportunity, you don't want to let it slip away, and we did."

How bad did it slip?

In the last seven minutes of the second quarter, the Celtics outscored the Lakers, 26-6, with a lineup that included three Celtic subs.

How bad did it look?

Garnett stalked around the court waving and chanting, a pep rally celebration – with 5:07 left in the game.

The fans began chanting, "Nah-nah-nah-nah … goodbye" – with 4:53 left.

Paul Pierce began doing a disco dance on the Celtic bench – with 2:21 left.