I surprised myself, pretty much a life-long Celtics hater, by genuinely pulling for Boston in the series -- it went beyond me just wanting the Lakers to lose. I like the way Celtics nucleus of stars -- Garnett, Pierce, Allen -- sacrificed personal achievement for team goals. I like Boston's role players, especially James Posey, but also Rajan Rondo and Kendrick Perkins (I could've done without Sam Cassell).
But when it really came down to cases, it was like this: My wife wussed out and went to bed around halftime. I wrote her a note about the game, put it on the bathroom sink. It read: "Bryant goes down Loses by 40."
Last night, Bryant quit, oh, around mid third quarter. When he started passing the ball to Pau Gasol in the post and jogging over to the opposite side of the court or cutting through half-speed, I knew the Lakers were not going to make a miracle comeback. He is the greatest basketball player in the world, or so conventional wisdom goes: Is that the way you roll in a championship elimination game? More to the original point of this blog post: Would Jordan have folded his tent like that?
Bryant fans will wonder: Why, Kobe, how could you tank like that? I think I have the answer. First, he got worn out. His legs were gone. Mentally, he couldn't solve the Celtics defensive scheme against him, and when he realized that his big men, Gasol and Lamar Odom, just couldn't get it done, he found all the justification he needed, a variation on an old Bryant saw: I can't do this alone. If my teammates are gonna suck this bad, why bother?
Would Jordan have done that?
We can argue the merits of Bryant's supporting cast after the fact, but before the fact, most experts thought that the Lakers, top to bottom, had better players than Boston. It's clear now that the Celtics had the better team, and, to my eyes, better players too. Fact is, Paul Pierce was better than Kobe Bryant during the 2008 NBA Finals.
And one more observation on the Byrant/Jordan thing. When Jordan was playing, almost everyone (except, apparently, me and fans of his rivals) loved him. Bryant -- who, despite his there'll-never-be-another-Michael stance, would love nothing more than to be thought of as Jordan's equal, and who has spent most of his career trying to be like Mike -- everybody I talk to can't stand Kobe Bryant.