Highlight-Reel Plays That Make Us Believe Kobe Bryant's Still in His Prime

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIMarch 27, 2013

Highlight-Reel Plays That Make Us Believe Kobe Bryant's Still in His Prime

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    Early in the third quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, Kobe Bryant received an entry pass from Steve Nash just off the right block.

    The rest of the Lakers cleared out that whole side so Bryant could go to work from one of his favorite spots on the court.

    Everyone in the building—including Klay Thompson, the guy checking Bryant—knew what was coming next. Kobe would back Thompson down with a couple of dribbles toward the basket, then spin over his left shoulder and fire off one of his patented baseline fall-away jumpers.

    We've all seen Bryant make that exact move a thousand times over the last few years, as his waning athleticism has compelled him to find more ways to score away from the hoop.

    It was the move Thompson was prepared to defend; that's why Thompson could only watch helplessly, just as the fans in the stands, when Bryant decided to eschew the baseline fade and attack the rim after making his familiar spin.

    And what a ferocious assault it was. David Lee thought about challenging it, but decided he didn't want "R.I.P David Lee" to be a trending topic on Twitter. Golden State's defensive anchor Andrew Bogut didn't even bother to help.

    The result was a monstrous reverse jam that hearkened back to Bryant's prime.

    Here are six more examples of Bryant showing he's still capable of turning back the clock at age 34.

Kobe Denies LeBron James, Twice

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    I know, I know, The All-Star Game is just a meaningless exhibition.

    Except it's not quite so meaningless.

    Every player out there wants to put on a show for the fans and prove they are the best of the best at an event they know everyone will be watching.

    Normally, Kobe Bryant stakes his claim to fame at the offensive end by lighting up the scoreboard. But on a night when he took a back seat to Kevin Durant and the West's younger stars, Bryant put his stamp on the game on defense.

    With the West protecting a slim lead in the final minutes, Bryant took it upon himself to defend LeBron James. Bryant ended up swatting the best player in the world—in the midst of the greatest month of his career no less—not once, but twice down the stretch.

    The first rejection essentially sealed the game, as Durant picked up the loose ball and sailed in for an uncontested slam at the other end.

Bryant Serves Brandon Knight His First Dish of Humiliation

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    Poor, poor Brandon Knight. For all his effort on defense he's rewarded by being the butt-end of jokes for the next few days.

    Knight's nightmare run began with this encounter with Kobe Bryant. After Bryant deflected Knight's pass, he raced down the court and received the lead pass from Metta World Peace with Knight charging hard behind him.

    Bryant actually slowed down and let Knight get between him and the basket before rising up and forcing the young Pistons guard to turn his head and abandon his halfhearted challenge.

Kobe Saves the Day Against Toronto

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    Two days after leading the Lakers back from a 25-point deficit in New Orleans, Kobe Bryant had to put his cape on one more time against the Toronto Raptors.

    Bryant made three ridiculous threes with increasing levels of difficulty in the final moments just to force the game into overtime.

    On the Lakers' final possession in OT, Bryant dribbled right around a Raptors double team and slammed home the winning basket. It was his second straight game recording at least 40 points and 12 assists, a feat accomplished only one other time (by Michael Jordan) since 1985.

Bryant Skies over CP3

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    In this season's first battle for L.A., Kobe Bryant drew first blood with a huge throwdown over Chris Paul.

    Bryant stepped into the passing lane to force a rare Paul turnover, then sped down the court before dunking right over Paul's outstretched arm. Kobe even took a small (cheap) shot to the chest as Paul returned to the ground first.

    At the time it seemed like it was just an anomaly; a former athletic phenom flashing some of his old hops in a big game. Little did we know it was just the first of many such moments to come.

Kobe Soars Past the Hawks

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    In another tight finish, this time against the Atlanta Hawks, Bryant emphatically scored two of his 34 points on this crucial play late in the game.

    With Josh Smith, arguably the NBA's top perimeter defender (Insider subscription required), covering him one-on-one, Bryant uses a well-executed crossover dribble to get by Smith and attack the goal.

    With Smith rising to challenge from behind, Bryant even absorbs some contact to raise the degree of difficulty on this dunk and make it look even more spectacular.

Bryant Breaks Brooklyn's Back

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    It appears that Kobe Bryant has a penchant for unleashing his athleticism more often when the game is on the line.

    That was again the case in this February matchup in Brooklyn against the Nets. In a game that was a physical, low-scoring battle (near the end of which Pau Gasol was lost as a casualty of war), Kobe landed the critical blow that resulted in a Lakers victory minutes later.

    Facing another elite perimeter defender in Gerald Wallace, Kobe turned on the jets and blew past Wallace, on a collision course with Kris Humphries at the rim.

    With Humphries protecting the goal and Wallace challenging from behind, Bryant elevated and went right through the defending duo to hammer home his loudest jam of the season.

    No play was more reminiscent of Bryant's athletic peak than this thunderous slam over the Nets.