First things first: Kobe Bryant is really, really, really good at basketball. Like, seriously outstanding at it. This is not news, of course, but bears repeating after his 41 point performance Saturday night in Denver, as the Lakers beat the Nuggets 103-97 in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, taking a 2-1 advantage in the series and regaining home court advantage.
The final line- 12-24 from the floor, 2-5 from downtown, 15-17 from the stripe, six boards, five dimes, two steals- was impressive, but this wasn't one of those silky smooth performances where he cuts through the opposition like the proverbial hot knife through butter. No. Dude earned this one, using every ounce of energy in the tank in his 41:13 of playing time. As he delivered his postgame interview with ESPN's Doris Burke, Kobe was leaning over hard, and not just because she's shorter than him. It looked like he lacked the energy and oxygen to get the words out.
"I couldn't feel my legs. Not at all," Kobe said of his late-game fatigue. "But you gotta do what you gotta do."
Indeed. At times, "what you gotta do" was driving the lane. Other times, posting up or working the baseline, and biggest of all (insofar as iconic highlights go), canning a ludicrously clutch triple over the momentarily not-stretched out arms of JR Smith on the left wing, putting the Lakers up by one with 1:09 to play. My favorite moment, though, came late, when he was sent to the line with 22 seconds to go and the Lakers up by two, with a chance to put a hammer lock on the game. Stepping to the line, clearly exhausted, he gathered himself, taking just a few more moments than normal to quiet his tired body and focus the last of his energy on two final shots. The "easiest" ones in basketball, so they say.
Cord. Cord. Lakers by four. For all the spectacular play he delivered in the first 47:38, it was there where we saw just how much effort it takes to be Kobe Bryant.
He wasn't alone, though.