It may be time to re-evaluate Kobe Bryant's play over the past three and a half-seasons.
If there was anything for which the polarizing Bryant has always been given credit, it was for rarely if ever mailing in a game.
But after watching what he did to the Raptors on Friday night, one can't help but wonder if these last few years really have been nothing more than a mode of mild amusement for Bryant while he was busy waiting it out for adequate help.
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Well, no. Not really. The questioning of Bryant's hard work on the floor here is wholly tongue-in-cheek. The amazement at what the promise of a brighter future did to Bryant's already-otherworldly game isn't.
For those who didn't see this game, I can't implore you strongly enough to watch the highlights. The box score line looks plain by comparison. That box score line would be the following:
19-for-28 from the field, 4-for-8 from deep, 4-for-4 from the line, 46 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover
Seriously, those jaw-dropping statistics don't even come close to explaining what Kobe Bryant did to his opponents on Friday night. Because he didn't just beat them. He demoralized them. And he did it like it was nothing.
Ever seen Death Wish IV: The Crackdown? That would be the one in which Paul Kersey (played by Charles Bronson) single-handedly stops illegal drug trade in his area. The opening of the movie features a dream in which three thugs are mugging a woman in a dimly lit parking lot. Suddenly, Bronson materializes out of nowhere. The thugs ask him who he is, and Bronson simply answers, "Death," before taking care of the situation.
That sums up Kobe Bryant's Friday night in Canada. "Death." To his opponents, at least.
Dribbling up the floor in transition, easily jogging past his man and dunking. Simply stepping through a double-team at the three-point line en route to throwing down with the right hand over an unsuspecting defender. Trying to drive the lane, fumbling the ball to the corner and picking it up in time to drain a fall-away three on the run from the corner. Hop-stepping through a double-team, jumpstopping in the lane and unloading with another big right-handed finish. Going to the sweet up-and-under reverse lay-up plus the foul.
Those would be just a select few of KB24's exploits on the night he learned that Pau Gasol was coming to Tinseltown (although it's also worth noting that the guy may just have an issue with the Raps, given that he dropped 81 on them two years ago). He played with a special panache, putting on a show of force that must have put the rest of the Association on notice.
This is the man with perhaps the single strongest will in the league today. On Friday night in Toronto, he demonstrated what might happen when he really wants to kick another gear. In a lineup finally featuring Lamar Odom as the fourth best player rather than the second, this sort of behavior could be a nightly occurrence from a more motivated Kobe than has been seen in years.
Whether or not this Lakers team is now the favorite in the West will merit further thought and time or investigation, certainly more than can be done at three o'clock in the morning (the current hour). How Gasol and Andrew Bynum will mesh remains to be seen.
But that Kobe Bryant is officially the NBA's most terrifying man once more no longer remains in any question.