Was there any doubt who the player of this series was? It wasn't even close as Kobe Bryant was far and away the best player on the floor, which is nothing new. Although it took the Lakers seven games to dispatch a pesky Denver squad, you should be impressed with the multiple faces of Kobe we had the pleasure of watching throughout the series. You name it, Kobe did it. He was an assassin, a facilitator, he was a defender and a rebounder, all at once, yet sometimes played one role more than others at any given time in any game. Most importantly, he was a leader.
I'm sure his critics would snicker at the mention of Kobe's leadership considering that a couple of his teammates gave some pretty pathetic performances which led to an all-or-nothing Game 7. Whatever the reason was, it should have been clear to anyone watching that Kobe played tough all series, no matter the situation. When his teammates shined, he praised them. When they struggled, or damn near quit, he encouraged them, yet demanded more from them. We all know Kobe typically plays the bad cop when it comes to motivating teammates. Kobe's a pros' pro, and effort is something no professional athlete should ever lack, so he demands that his teammates bring full intensity and produce. He doesn't take a step back when things aren't going right, he demands more. More of himself, more of his teammates. Just be better.
I'd imagine that Kobe's ways may grind on teammates. He has a way of calling teammates out, while usually never fully accepting blame for his role in any Lakers' failures. If the the team shot poorly, and he did too, he says "we missed shots." If the team's defense was lazy and lacked intensity and desire, meanwhile he fails to rotate or close out shooters, he says "our defense sucked." Deep down, he's right. It is a team sport after all, "we" should always be the pronoun used when talking about failures as a team, but Kobe's take on things often tend to deflect from his own faults. If he wants to point a finger at a certain teammate, he most certainly will. Through it all, the one thing you can never take from Kobe's way of leading is he demands results. Kobe's tough, but when he believes in his guys, it usually pays off. First the effort, then results.
With the season on the line, Kobe Bryant pulled off what could be one of, if not his finest job ever leading his teammates to victory. Realizing his shot wasn't exactly on target, he didn't decide to force matters (and possibly adding to years of Bill Simmons' cracks about 6-for-24). He let Denver's double teams come and he looked for Steve Blake. He looked for Metta World Peace. He looked for Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Ramon Sessions. With Kobe's clock ticking, and another shot at a title fading away and chance to pad to his legacy, he put his faith in teammates that had been pretty bad the last two games.
And let's face it, these wins, these championships belong to Kobe. Anything the Lakers accomplish now will be remembered as reflections of Kobe, and no one else. We'll remember Pau, Lamar Odom, Andrew, and Ron Ron, but these are Kobe's wins. He put his faith in guys who wound up stepping up better than we could imagine. Then he put the finishing touches with a dagger of a 3 that nailed the coffin shut on the Nuggets. No matter how many 38 or 43 point games Kobe will have for the rest of these playoffs, watching Steve Blake and Metta World Peace go mini-nova on passes from Kobe Bryant in the 4th quarter when he needs them most is what makes me appreciate this version of Mamba most. The version of Kobe that this team needs the most - Kobe the Leader. (Oh, and that defense on Lawson in the crunch wasn't too shabby either.)
Here are Kobe's stats for the series:
29.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.1 steals, and 3.3 turnovers per game in 40.3 minutes per game. He shot 77-of-172 from the field for 44.8% FG, including 15-of-42 for 35.7% on three-pointers. He was 35-of-44 for 79.5% from the free-throw line.
Highlights after the Jump...
Game 1 - 4/29/12:
Game 2 - 5/1/12:
Game 3 -5/4/12:
Game 4- 5/6/12:
Game 5 - 5/8/12:
Game 6 - 5/10/12:
Game7 - 5/12/12: