Kobe Bryant's 25,000-point milestone overshadowed by Lakers' lapses in 93-87 loss to Cavaliers
It appeared to be an ordinary reaction to an ordinary shot.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant swished a free throw with three minutes remaining in the second quarter against Cleveland, briefly high-fived Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and then went back to the stripe. Bryant's facial expression bore the same scowl and determined focus that's defined his relentlessness during his storied 13-year career.
Yet this shot wasn't necessarily ordinary.
Bryant's free throw brought him to 25,000 career points, the 15th player to reach such a level and the youngest. It was the same basket that was his first point as a rookie in 1996 and his last point in his career-high 81-point performance Jan. 22, 2006 against the Toronto Raptors.
Beyond the symbolic notion that the shot came full circle for a career that consisted of ups (three NBA titles), downs (Colorado, feuding with Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson) and then more ups (Olympic gold medal, fourth NBA championship and two league scoring titles), the shot itself doesn't exactly make for good theatrics for ESPN Classic.
But at least for now, that's the way Lakers fans should want it to be. The Lakers' 93-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday will temporarily overshadow Bryant's milestone because of the stakes involved.
The win gives Cleveland (33-11) home-court advantage against the Lakers (32-10) should they meet with identical records in the NBA Finals, an outcome Nike (more puppet ads), reporters (more Kobe-LeBron debates) and fans (more Kobe-LeBron debates) would like. The Lakers reached the Finals last season, and largely credited their six consecutive road wins in late January and early February as a major confidence boost once postseason play began. There's certainly plenty of time before the schedule reaches that point, but the Lakers' eight-game trip through 13 days didn't start off with a good first impression.
It left a bad taste for the Lakers, even with the milestone for Bryant, who accomplished it at the age of 31 years and 151 days and surpassed Wilt Chamberlain's feat, achieved at 31 years and 186 days. Watching a video spouting Bryant's storied career, such as the one below, seems inappropriate because of Thursday's loss.
That's because scoring milestones ring hollow when a team shoots 38.6% and its inside presence, in Andrew Bynum and Gasol, is pushed around. Bryant's big night seems sour when his 20-point first-half performance and strong defense on Delonte West ended with 31 points on 12-of-31 shooting, while James had 37 points on a 13-of-25 clip. Blaming Bryant's fractured right index finger and his absence in the fourth quarter until the 5:22 mark seem petty when Cleveland managed to win without its second-leading scorer, Mo Williams (sprained left shoulder), who scorched the Lakers on Christmas day with a season-high 28 points. Reliving Bryant's free throw that reached the 25,000-point milestone only reminds fans of the team's 15-of-24 mark from the stripe, including Gasol's two missed foul shots that could've tied the game with 24 seconds remaining.
Ticking off Bryant's scoring accomplishments, such as his 40-plus points in 103 games, his 50-plus points in 24 of them and his league scoring titles in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, isn't the best idea now. Surely, those feats will be appreciated in years to come. But there's a reason why Bryant expressed indifference as he neared this feat.
It's because winning is everything.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant wears a grimace during the final seconds of a 93-87 loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday night in Cleveland. Credit: Jason Miller / US Presswire.