It was Game Seven of the NBA Finals featuring the best rivalry in the league (both historically and in modern day), the best player in the world, and intriguing subplots loaded with vindication and legacy.
And Kobe Bryant had one of the worst playoff performances of his career.
Just when we were expecting a signature Bryant game, or at least a signature Bryant shot that would be saved, nicknamed, and replayed until it became embedded in sports lore, what we got instead was 18 bricks (including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc) and four turnovers.
Fortunately for Bryant, his supporting cast starred this evening, and they protected him from a summer of LeBron-like backlash.
Not that he wasn't without critics.
The lovable and unlikable Bill Simmons on ESPN.com wrote, "Gotta hand it to LA: tougher down the stretch and survived an epic stink bomb from Kobe. If you can win a game when your best guy goes 6-for-24, that's pretty good. As for Kobe's legacy... I think it took a hit tonight."
Michael Jordan's son got into the mix with a scalding tweet during the game.
"Marcus Jordan's tweet: NO ONE...And I mean NO ONE should EVER com par kobe Bryant to my dad an say that he is anywhere near close to my dad He's jagging this game"
(Yeah, I know, Bryant's game was bad but at least his daughters can spell better than that.)
And yet, the Lakers did win. Let's examine what Bryant did right last night:
1) Bryant missed 18 shots, but not all of them were bad looks. Some of them were last-second, "bail me out, Kobe!" passes from teammates. Some of them rattled out. And some of them were simply dreadful "the horror, oh the horror" type of shots. But he did calm it down in the second half, his shot just wasn't falling.
If he had made just half of the Js he normally does, his percentage would be right back in the low-40s, which is normal in this series (the Lakers as a team only shot 32.5% for the game... yeah, it was that ugly.)
2) Fifteen rebounds. The boards are big, because Bryant's primary assignment is Rajon Rondo, but the reason why Rondo has been so great on the boards is because Bryant plays way off him, so there's no Laker nearby to box him out when shots go up.
Every Bryant rebound is one rebound Rondo couldn't curtail.
3) Bryant's energy was great this series, he was jumping all over the court getting on loose balls and providing help defense (it helps playing off Rondo so he can free safety the entire court). He may not have a great game, but it's not for lack for trying.
4) Bryant had a mere two assists, but he was making a lot of correct passes. It's just that nobody shot the ball well tonight, so the assist numbers won't reflect his ball movement .
5) Bryant missed a lot of shots, but he was drawing double and triple teams which opened up the floor for other Lakers to grab offensive rebounds (23 for the Lakers compared to 8 for the Celtics).
6) There's a reason Ray Allen shot 37 percent for the series (29 percent from 3-point land). He was worn out chasing Bryant on defense every game, hence no legs left to shoot the ball.
7) The Lakers missed 12 free throws on the night, but Bryant went 8-for-9 from the foul line in the final six minutes when the Lakers made their push. His jumper had deserted him, so he attacked the Celtics' front line over and over. Especially without Perkins, the Celtics available big men were in foul trouble and Kobe caused them all kinds of problems by finishing off the season in aggressive style.
Overall, it was jarring to see Bryant shoot so poorly in a Finals Game Seven, but there is more to basketball than the ball going in the hoop, and he positively impacted the game in other ways, and most importantly, got the win.
His legacy is not taking a hit, that's classic Simmons over-thinking that's caught up in the moment. NBA legends tend to take on a mythical status in which their successes swallow up their low points.
For those with a short memory, Magic Johnson lost in the Finals four times, and was swept twice. But he won five rings and beat the Celtics twice, and that's what we remember him for, which is exactly how it should be.
I have a feeling that, for all the praise and adulation Bryant currently receives, he'll be remembered even more fondly in the years after his retirement, when his jersey is hanging in rafters and his statue is surrounded by posing fans.
Bryant won his fifth championship, the Lakers defeated the hated Celtics, and we witnessed a down to the wire Game Seven, and there is nothing that can tarnish that accomplishment.
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