When asked “Kobe or LeBron?” my answer the last year has been “LeBron for the first 42 minutes of the game, Kobe for the last six.”
Saturday night is exactly why.
Kobe is the best closer in the NBA. Kobe is better at making tough shots than anyone in the NBA. Kobe thrives in pressure better than anyone in the NBA.
That was all on display in Game 6. After the Suns made a dramatic run to cut the deficit to three — Sasha Vujacic will be riding home with the luggage on the Lakers flight — Kobe Bryant took over. Nine points in the final two minutes. He sealed it. He was the closer. He is the reason the Lakers won 111-103.
“What can you say about Kobe?” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “There’s an intense game going on and you almost have to laugh at what he does. I thought we played good defense on him and he just hit tough shot after tough shot.”
The Suns did play great defense. But Kobe made the two signature shots of this series.
The first came at the two-minute mark in the fourth and the Lakers up just three. Los Angeles isolated Kobe on the right wing and the Suns came with the hard double of Grant Hill and Channing Frye. Kobe spun with a quick step right but it didn’t create much room so Kobe just elevated with two men in his face and hit the 21-foot jumper.
Then with 35 seconds left, and the Lakers up just five, Kobe had the ball up high on the right side against Hill and took two hard dribbles right, got no real space but elevated anyway and drained a 23-foot jumper (with his foot on the line).
Then the fading away Kobe patted Gentry on the behind playfully, smiled, and did an airplane run down the court.
A plane that flew the Lakers to the NBA Finals for three straight years.
There wasn’t anything the Suns could do, there is no shame in how they played. This is what Kobe does. He is a cold-blooded assassin. He thrives when it is all on the line. This is why the Lakers are champions. Kobe is why they have a chance to be again.
“He is the best player in basketball. I don’t even think it’s close,” Gentry said.
Not in the final couple minutes it’s not.