Tuesday, May 18, 2010

King Kobe

Forget about LeBron James and where he may end up for just a little bit here. In fact, forget about "King" James altogether right now. The NBA playoffs are still going on, still with two rounds to finish, and in case you've been too caught up in the "Summer 2010 Bonanza," there's a familiar face staking his claim, once again, to the NBA kingdom.

Truth of the matter is the crown has been his all along, even as the rest of the world was ready to hand the keys over to LeBron. Yes, James legitimately earned his two MVPs, but he couldn't finish either season on top. Kobe Bryant was the one raising his hands in celebration, and he's the one emphatically leaving his mark as these playoffs wear on.

After a struggling with his shot to start against those spry Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe still managed to put up games of 21, 39 and 24 points before dropping to an uncharacteristic 12 points in a game 4 loss. Unquestionably frustrated with his shooting touch, Kobe didn't force it and demand to be the man, going against the nature many people accuse him of possessing. In a game 5 rout, he shot just 9 times, netting 13 points, content to facilitate to his teammates, proven by his 7 assists, allowing Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol — who has been incredible this postseason — to do the heavy lifting offensively. Then he sent the Thunder home for good with a 32-point, 7-rebound performance in game 6, with a little help from his Spanish friend.

Next up was the Utah Jazz, and as LeBron and the Cavs were struggling to keep up with the suddenly rejuvenated Celtics, Kobe raised his game even further, playing like a true MVP in what looked like an effortless sweep. Bryant posted games of 31 and 4, 30 and 8 (plus 3 blocks and 5 boards), 35 and 7, and 32 and 4. He averaged 32 points in the sweep, shot 52.3 percent from the field, 86.8 percent from the line. He took over.

And last night, he was the driving force in the Lakers' 128-107 blowout victory in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Suns.

He scored 40 points on 13-23 from the floor, 3-6 from three and 11-12 from the line. He had 5 boards and 5 assists, added a steal for good measure. Oh, and he gave Grant Hill some broke ankles:

No, Kobe didn't do it on his own. Pau was awesome yet again, getting 21 points on 10-13 from the floor. Ron Artest chipped in with 14-5-5-2. And Lamar Odom was kind enough to remind everyone just what he's capable of, posting 19 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in a dominating performance on the glass. But make no mistake about it, it was Kobe who was leading the way, the same way he did last year, the same way he did last series. The Suns had no answer for him. Truth be told, no one has. Ever. Even as he ages, he remains an impossible player to defend. That's what makes him so dangerous. He has no discernible weakness in his game. Where LeBron can be goaded into taking jumpers or forced to do so by an overly clogged lane, teams don't want Bryant shooting at all. His jumper is lethal, whether from three, mid-range, contested or uncontested. You want the ball out of Kobe's hands period, no easy task. And when he's feeling it, there's really nothing anyone can do.

During the third quarter, the supposed frontrunner for the 76ers coaching job Doug Collins talked about how when he coached Michael Jordan, Michael would come out in game 1 and put up a huge number in the scoring column to let the other team know right from the get-go that they couldn't guard him. He said Kobe's performance reminded him of exactly that. The Suns now have that fear, have that knowledge that they're going to have their hands full with Kobe … not to mention Gasol, Bynum, Odom and Artest.

LeBron may be labeled as the king, but until someone knocks him off, Kobe Bryant is still the real king of the NBA hill.

Also, seriously, how in holy hell did Shannon Brown jump so damn high?

That was easily the most impressive failed dunk I've ever seen in my entire life.

I still hate the Lakers though, so, Phoenix, please don't go down without a fight.

BallHype: hype it up!

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