Sure, Kobe Bryant seems to have adopted a mellower tone as he wends his way through his 20th and final NBA season, drinking deep of the adulation he's receiving not only from Los Angeles Lakers lovers, but also from opposing fanbases in every city he visits for a road game on his farewell tour. That does not, however, mean that all Bryant's rough edges have been sanded away when the Mamba's in the midst of competition, as we saw during the Lakers' Friday night matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center.
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To wit: Kobe going mano a mano with fellow former MVP Kevin Durant during the second quarter in a sequence that resulted in Bryant not getting a favorable whistle on what he believed to be a Durant foul before being called for his third infraction with 4:35 left in the opening half:
Kobe picks up his third foul. He glares at the ref too. Some things havent changed
— janis carr (@janiscarr) January 9, 2016
But Kobe would exact his vengeance on referee Bennie Adams in the third quarter.
With his Lakers trailing by three and just under five minutes remaining in the third, Bryant picked off a Durant pass and began to take off down the sideline in pursuit of a fast-break bucket. The third-leading scorer in NBA history wasn't about to let anything get in his way ... including the ref who he felt had missed that second-quarter foul call:
Kobe really bodied the ref 😂😂
— ️ (@lakergoat) January 9, 2016
I bet that ref gets outta Kobe's damn way next time...
— Uzoma Nwachukwu (@EazyKnowsBest) January 9, 2016
And yet, for every Heisman-inflected action, there is an equal, if not necessarily fully opposite, reaction.
For the second straight night, the Lakers found themselves with a chance to take a shot for a tie (or perhaps a lead) in the closing seconds. On Thursday, L.A. turned first to Jordan Clarkson and then to Lou Williams to try to upend the Sacramento Kings, but to no avail. On Friday, Bryant got the call ...
... except he didn't get the call.
Once again, Durant was all over Bryant as he attempted to get his shot off, resulting in a Kobe miss, a rebound and two free throws by Thunder star Russell Westbrook, and a 117-113 win that improved Oklahoma City to 26-11 and dropped the Lakers to 8-30.
After finishing with 19 points on 8-for-20 shooting in the loss, Bryant told reporters that, just like in the second quarter, he believed he got the short end of the stick on his final shot, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
Afterwards, Lakers coach Byron Scott said it was up to Anthony Brown to inbound to either Bryant or Williams before adding he was “not mad either way.” Brown said he chose Bryant because he was open at the top of the key. And all of the Lakers believed Durant fouled Bryant before he even released the shot.
“I did. It’s not a matter of opinion,” said Bryant, who posted 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting, six assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes. “You watch the play. [Durant] hit me right on the forearm at the end of the release. That’s why the ball went short.”
It's just like my grandfather always said: "If you want to get the benefit of the doubt on a critical bang-bang play late in the game, it always helps to avoid stiff-arming the refs to the ground at any point during the previous three quarters." A piece of wisdom as true today as it was the 1950s.
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