As a self proclaimed Kobe hater I couldn't help but take some satisfaction in the Celtics domination of the Lakers on Tuesday night.
How could you not? All we heard for the days leading up to Game One was that Kobe was now ready to take his place in the conversation alongside Michael Jordan for best ever.
I too was caught up with the mass of NBA fans and pundits who jumped on the Lakers-Kobe bandwagon following the Lakers closeout win against the defending champs on May 30.
The logic seemed sound. The Lakers had run through the daunted Western Conference with relative ease, capping their run to the finals by defeating the defending champs in five games.
The Celtics road on the other hand, was less of an express lane and more of an uncharted country road.
After going seven games with the 37 win Hawks, it took a super human effort by Paul Pierce in game seven to beat the defending eastern champion Cavaliers, who consisted of little more than LeBron James and a host of NBA reserves.
So it made perfect sense that the Lakers, lead by the MVP, would finally bring a post-Shaq title to La La land. The catch was that Kobe's new found wisdom prevented him from giving his team what they desperately needed against the veteran, defensive minded Celtics; a cold blooded assassin, who could soften up Boston's defense.
While few will argue the fact that Kobe is the best player in the league today, his post-Shaq playoff performances have done little to convince his detractors that he should be in the conversation for best player ever.
While it is difficult to argue that Kobe possesses the inner fire required to be the best in the game today, he has yet to prove that he can lead his team to a championship.
As the massacre was unfolding Tuesday night I could not help but recall the Lakers game seven loss to Phoenix in the 2006 playoffs. You remember the series.
The Lakers took a 3-1 lead over the western conference’s newest power the Suns. Kobe for the first time played the role of scorer and creator. He trusted his teammates to make plays and for the first four games they delivered.
But then following a Game Six loss in which Kobe broke out for 50 points on 35 attempts, he began to get the all familiar criticisms. "He was dominating the ball," "He did not give his teammates a chance to get involved;" "He was not able to make his teammates better."
So how did Kobe respond in the Lakers biggest game since Shaq departed for South Beach? He took three shots in the second half.
While Barbosa and Nash ran a 94 foot relay, Kobe (as later explained by Phil Jackson) decided that the Lakers best chance to win was for him to get the likes of Walton, Smush Parker, K.Brown, and Brian Cook involved.
As you can imagine the Suns ran away with Game Seven and took Kobe's first chance at post-Shaq glory with them.
As the first half came to a close, I could not help but wonder how the best player in the league, could for the second time in three years fail to do what great players do; take over in crunch time.
While Boston did play tremendous defense and the Lakers supporting cast was almost nonexistent, Bryant (as he did in 2006) looked to be content with deferring to much lesser players.
While the "new Kobe" led the Lakers to the finals, they were in desperate need of the "old Kobe" to get them over the top. The MVP needed to lead from the front against a more solid Boston team, not wait in the wings while Sasha, Luke and soft serve Pau Gasol struggled against a top notch defense.
Even more amazing is that he did not learn from Games Four and Five. While deferring to his teammates got the Lakers two early twenty point leads, it also allowed the Celtics to come back in both games as the Lakers went cold down the stretch.
To say that the loss was all on No. 24 would be wrong, but to expect more from the best in an elimination game is only human.
It may be unfair, but maybe if he took 35 shots I would have felt that he was doing everything he could to win the game, him being the best player in the league and all.