By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Throughout his All-Star career, Kobe Bryant has made a living by making the seemingly impossible possible for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Comfortably the best finisher in the National Basketball Association, Bryant thrives on the challenge of the playoffs and has made a habit of draining game-winning shots despite being double or triple-teamed.

Lakers fans have become well accustomed to the sight of Bryant, with time running down on the clock, somehow producing a three-point jumper to beat the buzzer while off balance and under profoundly close guard.

The 31-year-old is a master at knowing exactly when to force the pace in a tight contest and has frequently won games for the Lakers almost single-handedly in his 14-year career.

"To me, he's an assassin," Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of Bryant after the Lakers booked their place in the NBA Finals by winning the Western Conference championship series 4-2 Saturday.

"When he's in that zone, there's really not a whole lot you can do about it. That's why they pay him $30 million a year. I think he's the best finisher that ever played.

"He makes every tough shot and every big play for them. Since he walked into the league, I don't think I've ever underestimated him.

"He has the focus on one area, and that's to try to win a championship."

Bryant has already won four NBA championship rings in his glittering career and will seek a fifth when he and the Lakers meet the Boston Celtics in this season's best-of-seven showdown starting Thursday.


Named Kobe by his parents after they spotted the popular Japanese cut of beef on a restaurant menu shortly before his birth, Bryant has already established himself as one of the NBA's greatest players ever.

He has appeared in 12 All-Star games, was named Most Valuable Player for the 2007-08 season and landed MVP honors at last year's NBA Finals after the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 4-1.

Earlier this season, he became the all-time top scorer for Los Angeles and his team mates hold him in high respect -- as a player of outstanding talent and also as a leader.

"Kobe is so good, he makes incredible seem normal for us," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "He spins away from a double team, leans back and hits those medium-range jumpers. He uses his footwork to free himself while he's double-teamed.

"There aren't too many players in the history of the NBA who can make those plays. I always commend Kobe for his competitiveness, his preciseness, the way he studies the game and his goal as far as being the best player ever."

Bryant has averaged 25.3 points per game in his illustrious NBA career and he lifted that mark to just under 30 points through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Although he has been troubled by a swollen right knee and a broken finger on his right shooting hand for much of this season, expect him to shine once again against the Celtics.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)