After a seemingly effortless dispatching of the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Kobe Bryant's place among the basketball greats was a popular topic of discussion.
After following a season-long trend of making all the right decisions, and torching a defense that has been one of the best in the league for the past decade, the Lakers' superstar seemed poised to win his first post-Shaq championship, and seize his place in basketball immortality.
Then came Games One and Two of the NBA Finals.
The Celtics defense took Bryant out of his rhythm in Game One. He looked confused and indecisive against the best regular-season defense in the NBA.
The Celtics overloaded the strong side, usually placing all five defenders on the ball, making penetration impossible. Kobe, after shaking his original defender, found that there was nowhere to dump the ball once he was in the air, and threw multiple passes into the over-crowded lane.
Bryant posted good numbers in Game Two, scoring 30 points on 11-23 shooting, but didn't seem to have a large impact on the game, and the Lakers went down again. After the game, Bryant commented on how hard the physical Celtics' D made it to get to the basket, a statement that loomed in contrast to his claim of being able to "go off whenever I want to."
At this point, Kobe's chance at reaching the highest echelon of NBA players—a level including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and a few other select players—looked diminished.
Then, in Game Three, desperately needing a win at home, Kobe turned in a near-flawless performance, scoring 36, and making all the clutch plays down the stretch.
The key to his momentum-changing game was found exactly where his struggles in the first two games were.
It is an ageless and old-school basketball mantra that, seemingly in almost every situation, the solution is to, "get to the rim"—and that is what Kobe did. He put his head down, got to the rim, and made plays. In short, he found the solution to winning a championship.
The age-old mantra was proved true yet again, as Kobe's aggressiveness put him into a rhythm, and his jump shot started to fall too. He made the vaunted Celtics' D look like the old, offensive-minded players they were thought to be at the beginning of the year.
When he was left one-on-one, he made future hall-of-famer Ray Allen look like a scared high-schooler. When he was double-teamed, his teammates scored.
Bryant is still in a 1-2 hole though, and he will need a truly great Finals to cement his place in NBA lore. This series will make or break him. He has his first MVP trophy. He has a bona-fide team. He is a far and away the best basketball player in the world.
So after Bryant's return to form in a Game Three win, the question is begging to be asked again—is Kobe like Mike?
He is three wins away from allowing the debate to truly start