Kobe Bryant’s Worst Playoff Performance is One of His Most Respectable

June 18, 2010

It was not the typical Hollywood picture everyone expected, but Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was still something you might see out of a silver screen drama.

In the biggest game of his life — a do-or-die, one-and-done showdown against the Lakers’ rival and the team that decimated his squad in the 2008 Finals — Kobe Bryant seemed destined to rise to the occasion with an unforgettable performance.

Following a Game 5 loss where he scored 23 straight points, and a Game 6 blowout win where he set the tone early for the rest of the game, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bryant was going to put his stamp on his first ever Finals Game 7.

Against a team that had eliminated Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard, Bryant's stellar play caused most people to believe that he would succeed where those others had failed.

Bryant did give an unforgettable performance, but it was a performance many would like to forget.

In arguably his worst offensive playoff outing ever, Bryant shot a dismal 6-for-24 from the field, including 0-for-6 from downtown. He forced the issue on multiple occasions against Ray Allen’s terrific individual defense, throwing up an array of horrible shots and often failing to find the open man.

On one notable first half play, a double-teamed Bryant had a wide open Ron Artest at the three-point line. Instead of kicking it out to Artest, Bryant stubbornly forced a difficult shot that hit the side of the backboard.

This was one night where the Lakers' banged up and fatigued superhero lacked his super powers. And with the Celtics building a 13-point third quarter lead in a game where five-point deficits felt like 10, Bryant was not just choking, he was choking hard.

Rather than let the situation get the best of him, though, Bryant began to make the best of the situation.

He surrendered to the fact that he could not save his teammates as he had often done throughout his career. Instead, Bryant realized that he needed them to save him.

The Kobe of yesteryear would never have accepted such a notion. That Kobe might have continued to fire off shot after shot until he had completely shot his team out of the game and into the jaws of defeat. Despite expressing throughout his career that winning was all that mattered to him, Bryant sometimes did not know how to get there other than by taking over the offense himself.

But with time running out and the Celtics continuing to push, Bryant stopped trying to push back all by himself. He did not care about being individually great anymore, at least for the remainder of the night. He only cared about winning the game.

So with the Lakers rallying, Bryant did not merely embrace his teammates, he leaned on them.

While Pau Gasol, Artest, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher carried more of the offensive load, Bryant joined his teammates in the trenches and contributed in other ways. He asserted himself on defense, grabbed 15 rebounds, and earned eight of his 10 fourth quarter points one-by-one at the charity stripe.

No longer the superhero, Bryant was just another guy doing his part.

The play that definitively marked Bryant’s acceptance of the moment came in the fourth quarter when he passed the ball to Artest for a three-pointer that put the Lakers up by six with about a minute to go. A surprised Artest would later blurt, “He passed me the ball. He never passes me the ball.”

Typically, game-winners are reserved for Kobe. Under normal circumstances, Bryant would be expected to make a play. Not this night. Instead, he gave the ball to the player whom 19,000 fans had begged not to shoot just a couple of weeks earlier.

There is no question that Bryant has matured as a player and a leader in the last few years. He has been more active in developing the team, more vocal in the locker room and in timeout huddles, and a more patient and willing teacher. Most importantly, he has learned to trust his teammates.

However, part of Bryant still yearns for the admiration and greatness that can only come from a superstar’s dominating performance on the court. Although not as much as in his earlier years, we still see that side of Bryant every so often. We saw it in Game 7 where his shooting almost cost the Lakers their 16th title.

But we also saw his growth. Kobe demonstrated that at this stage in his career, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to win, even if that means that someone else might receive the offensive accolades at the end of the night.

That's easy to do in a meaningless January road game in New Jersey. Not so easy in Game 7 of the Finals.

Bryant has always been the hero that came to the rescue. He was expected to do so in the biggest game of his career, on the grandest stage of the NBA. In that sense, he failed miserably.

Not only will Bryant hear about it from the naysayers, but he is also likely to hear about it for a long time. He will hear about how Artest had to carry him over the finish line, and how Gasol should have been the Finals MVP. He will hear that he still has not surpassed Magic Johnson as the greatest Laker of all time. He will hear about how the Jordan comparisons need to stop.

And for right now, he is going to cherish every part of it, because he knows that such talk is borne from the one he got for the thumb, the one that put him one up over Shaquille O’Neal, and the one that he got against the Celtics.

This time it was the hero who needed to be rescued. Not only did he accept that storyline, he asked for it and embraced it. That may not make for the Hollywood ending everyone expected, but it sometimes makes for a better script.

By Kien Le
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com


  1. in the 4th quarter where the Lakers outscored the Keltics 30 - 22 to win the game Kobe scored 10 points, or 33% of the Lakers points. Not too shabby.

  2. that's kobe. the real NBA superstar :)


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