HOUSTON — The All-Star game was a competitive one down the stretch, and not surprisingly, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were the ones competing hardest, and doing so against one another with the contest hanging in the balance.
Bryant got the best of James on two possessions, twice blocking the shot of the reigning league MVP in the game’s final three minutes.
The first one was the most impressive. James seemed to think that Bryant got caught on the screen from Chris Bosh, and pulled up for a 20-foot jump shot once he dribbled past him.
But Bryant came from the side and was able to cleanly block James as he went up, and Kevin Durant picked up the pieces and turned them into an uncontested dunk that put the West up 10 with two and a half minutes to play in the game.
Durant was sincerely impressed.
“I don’t know,” Durant said, when asked when was the last time he saw James get one of his jump shots blocked. “It was a great block. I haven’t really seen any MVP get a jumper blocked like that. It was a really great play. Kobe is a great player.”
Bryant was asked about his competitive nature in locking up LeBron late, but anyone who’s paid any attention to how Kobe operates should already know the answer.
“Well, I mean, just taking the challenge and defending a little bit,” he said. “[The game] gets close, it’s just … It’s fun. I enjoy it.”
It appeared that some friendly words were exchanged between Bryant and James, but Kobe refused to classify it as trash talk.
“Me? Trash talk? Never,” Bryant said with a huge smile. “Never. I don’t do that. I’m a nice guy.”
Alright, then what exactly was LeBron’s reaction to those two plays?
“He didn’t really say much,” Bryant said. “He said I fouled him, and then I said well yeah, I pretty much foul every play. I’m an 80s baby, you know what I mean? That’s what we do.”
James didn’t seem to have any ill will about the way things went down afterward. But at the same time, he wasn’t at all surprised by Bryant’s motivation to give everything he had defensively to try to help his team win, while personally taking on the responsibility of stopping the game’s best player in the process.
“I am absolutely not surprised,” James said. “It was all in good spirit. It was just two guys who love to compete, love to go at it. It was a lot of fun.”