The final matchup between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James figured to be rather one-sided in both the result and the individual lines for both generational superstars. After all, Bryant is just over a month from retirement while James is likely to make his sixth-straight NBA Finals this spring. They're at different points in their careers — Thursday's game at Staples Center was less a last meeting between peers than an unofficial exchange of roles between a legend in his last days and a dominant force preparing to become an elder statesman.
Kobe defied one of those expectations with a throwback scoring performance. The 37-year-old converted more than half his field goal attempts for the first time since January 23 on his way to 26 points (11-of-16 FG, 3-of-4 3FG). Yet the style of his buckets was what truly impressed. It started early with this nasty move on LeBron:
The rest wasn't so bad, either. Bryant fired three-pointers after one-on-one standoffs, pulled up off the dribble, and generally looked like a dangerous offensive weapon whenever he got the ball.
However, his scoring prowess did not help the Lakers to an upset. L.A. led in the second quarter and trailed by as few as 10 late in the third but never looked a serious threat to win. Cleveland led comfortably for most of the second half and prevailed with a 120-108 victory.
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They looked good doing it, too. Check out this pass off the backboard from J.R. Smith to LeBron on a breakaway:
LeBron put up an impressive 24 points (9-of-18 FG) and seven assists while Kyrie Irving led the Cavs in scoring with 26 (11-of-20 FG). Yet deadline pickup Channing Frye had arguably the biggest impact for the Cavs' long-term prospects, shooting 8-of-10 from the field and 5-of-7 from deep for 21 points in his best game with Cleveland by a sizable margin. Frye replaced the injury-rested Kevin Love in the starting lineup and looked to provide the combination of outside shooting and interior defense that the Cavs sought when they traded for him in February. The question is if he can play that same role off the bench with Love back in the starting lineup.
With just 16 games left to play, the majority of the Lakers' remaining questions pertain to their youngsters. D'Angelo Russell continued to show his abilities on Thursday with 24 points. But he got the most attention for this terrific pass through contact:
Of course, the focus of the night was the final matchup between Kobe and LeBron. Not surprisingly, the two-time Olympic teammates embraced after the final buzzer:
LeBron cast himself and Kobe as kindred spirits in his post-game media session, too:
"We love the lights. We get up for the big moments. ... I wish I could play against him every night." LeBron James on Kobe Bryant
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 11, 2016
We can't wait until they meet up again as NBA owners in 10 years.
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