As easy and lazy as could be to go the ESPN remedial route and talk about Kobe Bryant’s clutchness, the real story after the Lakers game 2 meltdown vs the Thunder is that reality is setting in for one of the game’s greatest players. The Lake Show had firm control of game that would have given them homecourt advantage in this marquee series, but they gagged away a 7 point lead with 2 minutes remaining in the 4th. Or as Kobe likes to call it, the time when he morphs into Mariano Rivera. Instead, the Black Mamba basically handed the Thunder the game as if he had money on it.
I’m on record thinking that Kobe is the 3rd greatest guard of all-time behind MJ & Magic, but his play down the stretch Wednesday night made you cringe. Unless, of course, you’re a Laker hater or love to bust Kobe’s balls. If that’s the case, you’re in basketball heaven today. This is how he finished game 2…
He let James Harden fly by him for a layup, threw a lazy pass that Kevin Durant picked off and took in for a dunk, forced a fadeaway jumper that Harden blocked, didn’t get down court on defense (an ode to D Wade perhaps?) to prevent another Harden layup & then bricked a 3 with 6 seconds remaining on the shot clock. I’m not mentioning the fact that he didn’t get the ball on the Lakers’ final possession because he wasn’t open and a cross court in-bounds pass would have probably been picked off.
A 9-0 run virtually ended the Lakers season, and leaves one of the game’s greatest players to ponder what’s next?
You can excuse Kobe from having this kind of game because he’s delivered time and time again throughout his career. Hell, even MJ had two bad turnovers in a crushing game 1 loss to the Magic in Jordan’s ’95 comeback season. It happens to the best of them and Kobe isn’t immune despite the claims of those that hang on his nuts 24/7.
The simple fact is that age, attrition, injuries & 1,378 games (including playoffs) and counting have stripped Kobe of his all world athleticism and lift. Shots are more contested than they used to be. He can’t finish above the rim with ease like he once did, which leads to fewer free throws and more forced jumpers to get his points. On those jumpers, he can’t raise up over defenders like he once did, which leads to blocked shots and bricks off the front rim. And his shooting in the 4th quarters of games abandons his fatigued body while the young Thunder get stronger. But most of all, he is so consumed by matching MJ’s 6 titles that he has this maniacal attitude that hinders his game.
You can call it hero ball if you’d like, but the forced 3 with time left on the shot clock was just atrocious. In the past, Kobe would have the confidence in his knees to know he could get to the rim (and free throw line) no matter who was guarding him. The length of Durant bothers him, the hustle of Harden wears him down & the annoyance of Thabo Sefolosha brings out his one on one mentality (who is this bum trying to check me?!).
Father time gets everybody and Kobe is no different. He looked better this year and wasn’t dragging his knee up and down the court thanks to his Germany trip, but the young, spry & ridiculously athletic Thunder have made Bryant look more like Wizards MJ than Bulls MJ. There’s no amount of Kobe System that can prevent this kind of decay. It’s like seeing a girl from high school or college that’s aged with the grace of a hard partying coke head.
It’s sad to see because I remain a fan of Kobe’s. He can still play at a high level, but the days of him dominating legitimate playoff teams are a thing of the past. You only have so many jumps in your knees, and unfortunately, there’s only a few left in one of the ten best players of all-time.
I’d much rather remember this Kobe Bryant…