Kobe Bryant has made no secret of his disdain for the Boston Celtics. Ever since he stood alone in the team showers, the cacophony of cheers from both the Celtics and their supporters filling the visitor's locker room at the Garden after the Los Angeles Lakers fell in the 2008 Finals, Bryant has taken extra pride in matchups against them.
Thwarting the Celtics in the 2010 Finals combined with the departures of all significant members of those crews and age has likely lessened Bryant's hatred for the green and white. The fact that the Celtics are fighting for a playoff spot while the Lakers sit at the bottom of the standings with Bryant just days from retirement could also be reasons for Kobe to go a little easier in his last go-around with Boston.
Kobe has also shown a tendency to laugh and joke around with opponents throughout his farewell tour, but Lakers head coach Byron Scott said that was not the case on Sunday night:
Kobe was "dead serious" all night, Byron said. No laughing or joking in final game vs. Boston. "He understands this series," Byron said.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) April 4, 2016
Bryant has also often taken home games off this season as he attempts to preserve himself for road farewells and his final game in Los Angeles, but it sounds like the time for that is over as he comes to the end of his final season:
Kobe has 2 home games left: "To the extent that my body will allow me, I am going to do my best to give the fans what they came to see."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 4, 2016
In Kobe's final game against the hated Celtics, he was able to deliver on that promise. The fans in attendance at Staples Center might have been the last to witness a solid game from Kobe, given that he only has six left at most and has often struggled mightily this year.
Bryant was able to put those difficulties behind him for at least one more night, dropping 34 points (four off of his season-high 38 against the Minnesota Timberwolves) on 11-28 shooting against Boston. It wasn't the best game the future Hall of Famer has played, but it was evident that he had rested up and locked himself in for this one.
What was most striking was how (at least offensively) he looked like the same old Kobe. He did his damage using all the same tricks he's used throughout his legendary career.
A big part of the reason Bryant has been so polarizing is that he's simultaneously one of the most fundamentally sound, high-IQ players to ever lace up in the NBA, but he's also been prone to taking insane shots no coach would ever instruct. Both sides of that coin were on display against the Celtics.
Bryant got things started with a classic Kobe sequence: get the ball from a big at the left elbow, give the defender a jab step to generate space, then rise and fire. Too often this season the same process has resulted in another fruitless clank sacrificed at the altar of his farewell tour, but Kobe's first jumper rang true against Boston, a sign of things to come.
Partially because he almost always wanted the ball in his hands, Kobe was underrated throughout his career as an off-ball threat, but Bryant caught Jae Crowder sleeping on him, ducking towards the rim to give rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell an option to escape being trapped on the wing. A quick pivot, dribble, and baby jumper later, Kobe found the bottom of the net again.
To hear Russell tell it, there was another reason he was looking for Bryant: because Kobe said so.
Answer: "Give me the ball" - Question: D'Angelo Russell, what was Kobe Bryant saying to you on the court late in the game?— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) April 4, 2016
That quote is another example of vintage Kobe, and it was followed by the same type of hero-ball a prime Bryant would partake in with great success early in his career. From the ludicrous heat check threes
To the double-team beating jumpers that carried him out of bounds:
Fans received the full Kobe Bryant experience on Sunday night. His last make of the evening was straight out of a time capsule from the Lakers' more successful days:
Sizing up Evan Turner, showing the ball, waiting for a sign of weakness. The hesitation followed by a burst leading to an actual stop, then a pump fake, then the up-and-under step through jumper he wanted the whole time. The bounce into a confident stare to his bench, letting them know he's got this.
If not for the date at the beginning of the gif and the scoreboard, the whole thing could easily be mistaken for a prime Bryant roasting whatever overmatched defender was on the menu that night. The individual success makes it that much stranger that there are only six games left to watch the man who has been at the center of the Lakers franchise for the majority of the last two decades, that he'll never face Boston again.
Tonight was the last time Kobe will ever play the Boston Celtics: "It's weird that it's the last time I'm going to go against the green."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) April 4, 2016
Describing that reality as "weird" is the understatement of the night. In a contest that saw Bryant's head coach ask his teammates if they had ever been in a fistfight, the retiring star threw possibly his last solid punch, even if it was in a losing effort.
"Boston Sucks" may be the most popular Lakers fan chant this side of "We Want Tacos," but for one last night, the big green target of that mocking chorus brought out the best in Bryant.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.