Thursday night Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to score 26,000 points, but it's hard to applaud that achievement considering the circumstances surrounding the accomplishment.
Bryant scored a season-high 34 points in a losing effort, as the Denver Nuggets ended the Lakers' season-opening eight game win streak with a 118-112 victory.
Bryant has recently been praised for his growth, maturity, and new-found confidence in his teammates; but, the progress in those areas hit a set-back in the face of a complete 4th quarter Lakers' collapse.
Bryant's 34 points came on 32 attempts from the field in a performance that hearkened to the days of Bryant's storied past in the worst way possible.
With 4:21 left to play in the 4th quarter and the contest tied, the Nuggets went on a 11-0 run. The Lakers' response in general, and Bryant's in particular, proved that the team still has plenty of room for improvement.
For the first time this season, the Lakers looked unsure of themselves with the game on the line. This reality was illustrated by Bryant's impatience and ill-advised shots while the game was still in doubt.
At this point in his career, Bryant should be able to recognize when his teammates are struggling and respond accordingly. The solutions, however, are not always found on the end of Bryant's jump shot.
To be fair, it's hard to place blame entirely on Bryant because it was plain to see he was frustrated by the timid post efforts of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. The lack of perimeter defense from the Lakers point guards was also infuriating.
Nuggets' guard Ty Lawson took turns abusing Derek Fisher and Steve Blake off the dribble, and their inability to contain the perimeter was eerily similar to the Lakers' struggles in the past.
Odom also snatched a page from his past by scoring a season-low 3 points on 1-6 shooting from the field, although he did grab 12 rebounds.
At first glance, it would appear Gasol had another dominant game considering he scored 17 points and pulled down 20 rebounds. But Gasol only shot 6-15 from the field and was limited to 4 points after halftime, followed by 0 in the 4th quarter.
In fact, Gasol and Odom's combined 32 rebounds is as big a mirage as Bryant's 34 points, since both players spent most of the game getting shoved around by the smaller Nuggets.
NeNe and the much smaller Al Harrington couldn't keep Gasol and Odom off the boards, but they sure made life difficult for them on the offensive end by pushing them out of scoring position and harassing them on every shot attempt.
Gasol's confidence was clearly shaken, and it was illustrated by one play between Gasol and Bryant in the 4th quarter.
A Bryant pass off penetration set Gasol up perfectly with what seemed like an easy scoring attempt at the rim, but before Gasol could even leave his feet a Nuggets' defender snatched the ball out of his hands.
You could see the anger in Bryant's face as each player ran back up the court, and with Gasol struggling mightily, it's easy to understand why Bryant felt the need to take over the game.
But, instead of identifying the best course to take, Bryant reverted to a version of himself that is all to familiar.
And he did have other options.
The Lakers' post players were nearly non-existent in the 4th quarter, but Shannon Brown and Ron Artest combined for 37 points on 14-25 shooting from the field. Artest was particularly effective in the post.
I'm not saying that Artest and Brown could have won the game for the Lakers, but it seems to make a little more sense for Bryant to attack the rim off the dribble and look for either of those players once his penetration was stopped.
In fact, Bryant spent much of the game beating Aaron Afflalo and J.R.Smith off the dribble. With the Nuggets' loose double-teams, there were plenty of opportunities available late in the 4th quarter. But Kobe chose to launch contested three pointers from outside.
The Lakers will definitely re-group after this loss, and if the harsh rebuke delivered by point guard Derek Fisher after a close win over Minnesota is any indication, the Lakers should be even more motivated after losing to the Nuggets.
But hopefully that motivation will come with renewed insight from Bryant and the understanding that the Lakers are usually their best when he chooses to press the least.