Kobe Bryant tallies 30-point games the way Super Mario jumps over mushrooms. No other player has made the 2010 playoffs a personal shooting range the way he has. Logically, I expected him to deliver a final chapter, a game 7 masterpiece, which could reduce the most cynical of fans to tears.
Alas, the Celtics' defense refused to hand Da Vinci his brush. As such, for the most part of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, I felt robbed of the zenith I envisioned; with a magnificent Bryant on one side and the resilient Celtics, the tough guys who were never supposed to be here, on the other.
It's easier to find elegance in the production of points, more convenient to marvel at the creation of flow. Yet in a Game 7 that felt like an NFL game played through a blizzard and knee-deep mud, we were forced to appreciate the prevention of points, the disruption of flow the way audiophiles hear beauty in a Razorback ear-splitter.
All night, Bryant dealt with two Allens and couple of other Celtics. Boston’s defense pushed Bryant into a corner, a corner not even a player averaging 29.5 points per game could wiggle out of, and drove observers to exclaim, "Wow!" It wasn’t a "wow" normally reserved for Bryant's gorgeous fade-away jumpers but a "wow" brought about by the absence of it in such a monumental game.
In the 2010 post-season, I've never seen Bryant, the Laker immortal, seem so mortal. He shot 6 out of 24. At times, he seemed tentative, firing jumpers that didn't carry the confidence of the other 487 attempts he took prior to Game 7. Was the best closer in the NBA giving way to the weight of expectations? Was it so foolish to entertain such thoughts after Bryant went 3 out of 14 in the first half?
To say that Bryant is the alpha and the omega of the Lakers isn't the same as saying he's out to score 83 points and win Game 7 all by himself. Not even Michael Jordan, even the Space Jam version, could do that. But to expect the Lakers to win with Bryant shooting so poorly was akin to expecting Star Wars to be what it is, to have 6 installments treated with reverence, without Darth Vader as its focal point.
But as even as resilience was Boston's calling card, insistence was the Lakers' battle cry. While Boston "limited" Bryant to 15 rebounds in Game 7, Ron Artest played the game of his life, Pau Gasol nearly went 20/20 (19 points 18 rebounds), Lamar Odom made plays, Sasha Vujacic canned free throws and Derek Fisher was…Derek Fisher. Most of all, the Lakers survived Bryant's mortal night by playing team defense even Boston could be proud of.
Admittedly, I've made fun of Artest and Vujacic occasionally. But like Bryant on the night of his fifth championship, watching a supporting cast play the hero's role in a grind-out epic, I am enlightened, I am humbled.