During the time around about December and through April, the Boston Celtics didn’t seem like a Finals-destined team.
It went a bit same for the Los Angeles Lakers, too.
The Boston Celtics finished their last 54 games with a 27-27 record. A bunch of blog posts, articles, and other things kept saying Boston will be an early exit in the playoffs and that they are old and done for.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished their last 54 games with a 34-20 record. Many said that it would literally impossible for L.A. to make it to the NBA Finals for the third straight time.
And it didn’t seem like they will.
Kobe Bryant was playing well when 2010 hit, but his last few games of the season were a bit of a disappointment and it could show a sign for the playoffs that the Lakers were not ready. Bryant had a game of shooting five out of 23 shots. He kept having games like these in the final match-ups for him and his Lakers.
The Black Mamba didn’t seem like it. But Bryant rested for his last two regular season games to get himself ready for the playoff-matchup against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Lakers made the first two games look easy. Leading 2-0, they looked like they had this series in the books. And that is when the Thunder sore, coming back in two games to tie the series and shocking the Lakers. Now it was L.A.’s turn to be mocked as “old.”
But old no more.
The Lakers struck back and took the series away in the next two games. The second round was easy. They swept Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, and the rest of the Utah Jazz squad.
That series looked like it followed up to the tune of “All In One Swipe” by Mack Maine. The Black Mamba was ready to strike.
Then Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and the Phoenix Suns came. They were an advanced squad with Nash, Stoudemire, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez, and others. The Suns came into this match-up as the underdogs, obviously, but many liked them for the Finals. Showing the Hispanics love with their Los Suns jerseys and representing Arizona, Phoenix was ready to bring in a title for their hometown.
But that’s if they stop the Black Mamba.
And they didn’t.
Kobe struck them like lightning; dropping 33.7 PPG, 8.3 APG, and 7.2 RPG. (Quoting ESPN.com’s John Hollinger) Kobe punished them with his shots, including his “you-gotta-be-kidding-me” shots that Hollinger noted.
The Suns would later be vanished in six games.
His performance against Phoenix continued what’s been a dominating 11-game run, one that followed the lightly scheduled 18-day stretch that allowed him to recuperate after the Portland game.
How dominating? Consider this: Even Kobe rarely has played at this level. He scored at least 30 points in 10 of his last 11 games, something he hadn’t done in the regular season or playoffs since January 2006.
More generally, if you permit me the luxury of cherry-picking the 11-game stretch starting with Game 6 of the Oklahoma City series, this is the best he’s ever played in the playoffs by any measure you want to use. Highest scoring average, best player efficiency rating, best shooting percentage, most assists, best 3-point shooting … by all of those standards, this last 11-game stretch trumps any other Bryant postseason.
The Suns knew what was coming to them with Bryant. Kobe was going to do work! He had an amazing post-up, as we have seen. The Suns had to respond to that and stop Kobe as much as possible.
The Suns had to use big guys to stop him with the post-up game. They used guys like Grant Hill and Jared Dudley. They did well on it, along with adding a couple double-teams on number 24 here and there.
But that couldn’t stop Bryant.
At some points, he would own Grant Hill off the dribble and make the veteran look foolish. At one point, Kobe Bryant made a great move, breaking Grant Hill’s ankles.
The funny thing was on that play was that he missed the shot, but Andrew Bynum responded with a put-back dunk.
Bryant was clicking on cylinders like a couch-potato clicking on his remote through over a hundred channels to find that right show. Silly as it sounds, that is how good it really was. Bryant had a notable accomplishment in the 111-103, series-eliminating win over the Suns: he has the all-time lead for most 30-point playoff road games with a chance to clinch.
He had eight games with them; passing ahead of guys like Elgin Baylor, the great Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson.
Now Bryant is here, with four days to rest until Game One of the NBA Finals versus the team he lost to in the 2008 NBA Finals: The Boston Celtics. At the way Bryant is playing right now and the Lakers, it’s going to be much different from what we saw two years ago. This is totally different, my friends.
And it is going to be fun.
There is this big question here: Who is going to guard Mr. Bryant? Whoever it is, they may be in for some trouble. We’ve seen Paul Pierce get up on Bryant two years ago. But now it may be different. Ray Allen may be the guy. He’s going to have to man up on Bryant.
But Kobe has other things up his sleeve.
For this year’s Finals, he also has Andrew Bynum finally. Bynum will be the key for the Lakers’ success. And Kobe is going to make the Celtics question what is going to happen.
Bryant already seems like he is one stop ahead of his opponent. And in the words of Lil Wayne “Weezy:”
Kobe Doin’ Work
Two-four on his shirt
He’s the greatest on the court…
Get ready Boston.
The Black Mamba is hungry for revenge!