The contest had been hyped up as one of the best teams in the league playing against one of the most talented but yet underachieving squads in the NBA; with two stars from two huge markets squaring off with bragging rights on the line.
Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony played together during the Olympics and won a gold medal this past summer, which naturally created a bond between both players given that they excelled on the biggest sporting stage of the world together.
Going into the night, what made their matchup so compelling was the shift in narratives for players.
Kobe Bryant had been labeled as a selfish gunner for most of his career, but was playing a better brand of basketball heading into the contest. Indeed, so far this season Kobe has avoided monopolizing the offense to no end and taking a plethora of low percentage shots.
Instead, the Mamba has switched things up by improving his shot selection, which consequently has made him a much more efficient scorer.
As great as Bryant has been this season in terms of manufacturing high percentage shots and converting them though, the Lakers haven’t truly benefited from it as evidenced by their sub-.500 record.
Carmelo Anthony on the other hand was asked by his coaching staff early in the season to switch positions and play power forward and has embraced the role.
The Syracuse product has been the arguably most destructive scorer in the Association, mixing and matching all of his skills to punish opponents with swift and decisive moves.
That improvement alone might have sufficed to elevate the Knicks as a team, but Melo took it a step further.
The former Denver Nugget is setting the example on the defensive end, playing a much more committed and tough brand of defense in comparison to previous seasons.
Combine those facts with his willingness to share the spotlight with teammates, and Melo is now a legitimate MVP candidate based on the first quarter of the season.
Needless to say, when the Lakers and Knicks were set to play each other last night, we expected both to set the world on fire and give us a performance that would be remembered for the remainder of the season.
And they did. Sort of, but not really.
Melo was a stud in the first quarter as he tested quite early just how flammable he was as he launched and converted a trio of shots from downtown.
He then used those shots to set up drives and mid-range jumpers to completely render Metta World Peace invisible on his way to a 22-point first quarter on eight-of-nine field goal shooting.
Never one to be outdone, Kobe responded by also hitting three jumpers from three-point land, might you his shots offered an increased level of difficulty as he faded either to his left or right off the dribble on two of them.
The former league MVP did not match Melo’s scoring output, but he was no slouch as he put up 13 points in the opening quarter of the contest.
The second period was a dud in terms of star power, as both players forced up a couple of shots and combined to score four points on one-of-eight field goal shooting. Not all of their shots were questionable, but their decision-making was a little suspect in the second 12-minute set of the contest.
Then the third quarter happened and Melo was injured and lost for the remainder of the game, which in turn left the seemingly immortal Kobe Bryant as the lone superstar wolf in the game.
Although the Mamba struggled a bit, he got himself going again and scored nine points to turn what was a blowout into a game once again that the purple and gold could potentially steal in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, the Knicks’ shooting and playmaking would be too much for the Lakers to overcome but Mike D’Antoni’s unit was competitive and managed to make a game of it.
Bryant would add another nine points in the final quarter and even defer to World Peace on a few possessions to allow him to take advantage of a mismatch.
A quick glance at the box score would reveal that Anthony and Bryant both broke the 30-point barrier on the night, but in truth the game never truly left the impression that two superstars were going head-to-head with huge bragging rights on the line other then in the first quarter.
The Knicks had an impressive showing and displayed to basketball fans around the world just why it is that they are knocking on the Miami Heat’s championship window, but the game itself sadly lacked the bravado and swagger that superstars bring along with them.
In a way, one could say I felt cheated.
Hopefully, when the play again at Staples Center in Los Angeles, we all get the star power we want and crave.
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