The Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals with an 89-70 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of their series. And Kobe can breathe a sigh of relief. Even without Yao Ming for some of the series, the Rockets still pushed the Lakers to the brink of elimination and for Kobe to a career-crippling defeat. Kobe has faced so much scrutiny over the years for his character, his skill, his attitude, but this was a bit different.
This was Kobe vs Shane Battier. People have always wondered how good Kobe is, if he can carry a team to a championship, and if he is as good as Jordan (he’s not). This time though it was is Battier better at defense than Kobe is at offense. This was new to Kobe.
This Rocket team has limited scoring, especially with Yao out, but has great defensive players in Battier and Artest amongst others. Could the defensive stalwarts of Houston outlast Kobe and his Lakers?
Battier played defense on Kobe like Kobe had never faced before throughout the entire series. Every shot, Battier has his hand millimeters from Kobe’s face. He fights through screens and hip checks every possession. He pushes Kobe around and forces him to his inefficiencies. Still, Kobe hits a shot and struts back up the court saying, “He can’t guard me”
Kobe is very lucky his team escaped this series, because if the Rockets had won, Kobe would have to realize that he came up short – again. Even today, when the Lakers won easily, Kobe shot just 4 of 12 from the field and had only 14 points. No one has played defense on Kobe as tough as Battier did. Maybe with Yao, the Rockets wouldn’t have come up short.
Even more annoying for Kobe is probably the fact that even as Kobe continued scoring over Battier, he couldn’t get any press. All anyone would talk about is Battier and his defensive preparation (just like I am now). How annoying must that have been for Kobe? He came into the day averaging 29.7 points per game, but everyone was talking about how well Battier has played. Battier has been in ESPN and Sports Illustrated articles, and done countless interviews. Isn’t Kobe the superstar though?
This was a battle between the glitz-and-glamour of Kobe Bryant versus the hard-nosed, push-him-around mentality of Shane Battier. It was the age-old battle of offense versus defense. It was David versus Goliath. Unfortunately, David came up a bit short when Yao went down. Kobe can’t be that surprised that everyone rooted for Battier. He probably would have himself if he wasn’t on the Lakers.
If Los Angeles had lost, everyone would have conlcuded that Battier beat Bryant. He would have lost that aura about him of being one of the greatest players of all-time. How could he been one of the best ever if Battier can shut him down during a seven-game series?
Luckily for Bryant, no one is asking those questions yet. He still needs that championship without Shaq to prove he can take a team and win it all. For now though, this was another challenge, maybe Kobe’s toughest yet, and he just squeaked by.