Heading into the 2010 NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant’s health and the thousands of mileage his body has racked up over the years was a hot-button topic with the media.
Some questioned whether the 31-year-old Bryant, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, could keep up with 21-year-old scoring champ Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City in their head-to-head showdown in the first round.
Durant knew better and he laughed at the notion that Bryant could no longer play at a MVP level.
“Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league, one of the best players in the world,” Durant told reporters after his team was destroyed, 111-87, in Game 5 by Bryant’s Lakers and is now on the brink of elimination down 3-2 in the series. Durant was held to 17 points (13 points below his regular-season average) and the Thunder shot just 37% from the field.
“He’s Kobe Bryant. He’s going to come out and lead his team. That’s what he’s been doing for 12 or 13 years,” Durant continued. “He doesn’t really have to score on this team to win games now. People say he’s lost a step or whatever, but he’s still the same Kobe Bryant.”
Despite the ankle, knee and finger injuries that have robbed a portion of his game, Bryant is still good enough to find other ways to dominate a game.
He was able to get his big men easy buckets in the first half when he attacked the basket, which enabled the Lakers to punish the Thunder for 58 points in the paint. And his defense on Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was the key to the Lakers’ blowout in Game 5.
Taking in the challenge of guarding Westbrook from the opening tip is what separates Bryant from the rest of the superstars in the league. He didn’t ask Phil Jackson to guard Westbrook in the second half or the fourth quarter, he wanted to shut him down in the first quarter.
That type of killer mentality is the reason why Bryant has four NBA championship rings and it’s the main reason why the Lakers are still the best in the West and the team to beat in the NBA Finals.