Here’s what Kobe Bryant had to say following L.A.’s Friday practice:
Q. This Finals coming up we’ve got another set of finals coming up, the World Cup Finals. I know you’re a big soccer fan. I was wondering whether you’ll be watching team USA and whether you reckon USA will have a chance of upsetting.
KOBE BRYANT: I’ll follow them every chance.
Q. Are you going to be watching?
KOBE BRYANT: If I can, yeah.
Q. How much different is Kevin Garnett this year as opposed to the 2008 version?
KOBE BRYANT: I don’t know, I don’t really see much of a difference. He looks fine to me.
Q. He’s playing at the same level as 2008 you think?
KOBE BRYANT: He looks fine to me. He seems to be everywhere.
Q. A lot of people are talking about how you’re a man on a mission, and you even joked about, quote, being surly yesterday. But your attitude, just this man on a mission attitude, has it changed any since maybe early last decade when you were winning the titles? Does it come with being more of a veteran? Does it come with having those three years in a row where you didn’t make the playoffs and you lost in the first round? Maybe you could elaborate on that?
KOBE BRYANT: Yeah, I mean, just comes from understanding opportunities not coming along very often and making sure you focus in and take full advantage of it. Early in my career it’s like we’d pop up, we’d win three straight, and after that there was a drought. So now it’s just i want to make sure we don’t leave any stones unturned.
Q. Just realizing as you get older and you’ve got to take even more advantage
KOBE BRYANT: Absolutely. You can’t let any opportunities go to waste.
Q. Could you sense at all Ray Allen getting frustrated with the fouls trying to defend you last night? And are you more comfortable against this defense now than you were two years ago when James Posey played you a lot back then? Is this one a little easier for you individually?
KOBE BRYANT: No, you know, they’ve never played me with one guy. That’s never been whether it was Posey, whether it’s Ray, whether it’s Paul, they do a great job of surrounding me with other bodies and making sure I have guys in front of me all the time. So it’s really not a match up with me and Ray, it’s really me trying to find gaps and holes in their defensive scheme and the help that they provide.
Q. What do you make of just all the attention the free agents are getting while The Finals are actually going on, especially LeBron whose been on national TV, Larry King and such? What do you make of all that attention being on that and maybe not as much on The Finals?
KOBE BRYANT: I don’t care about attention. It doesn’t mean anything to me.
Q. Your finger is maybe still not 100 percent. How do you characterize how you’re playing through all that stuff?
KOBE BRYANT: You just try to get as healthy as you can for every game and you go out there and just do your best. You just forget about the injuries and put your hardhat on and go to work.
Q. Talk about the difference this series is for Andrew. The last couple ones have been up tempo but now he has a more traditional series. He seems excited more so about this series than the past two. What do you think about how he fits here?
KOBE BRYANT: I mean, he’s excited about the series. His match up with Kendrick is a good one for him. Kendrick is a hell of a defender on the low post, so he was excited about that. The last series was tough for him, Oklahoma series, as well, because he did a lot of running and he had guys that were really fast, and it’s tough for his knee to get up and down that much.
Q. What do you think about his toughness and his heart, to not take the surgery and fight through this the entire way?
KOBE BRYANT: I think he understands opportunities, and he wasn’t there with us in ’08. He was there last year and he has an opportunity in front of himself here this time around, and he wants to take advantage of it.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about I guess everybody strives to be better. Do you believe you’re better than even last year in the postseason?
KOBE BRYANT: I don’t know. We just do what’s necessary. Whatever comes out of the flow of the game. Whatever takes place I try to take advantage of.
Q. In terms of focus, there was a scene in the game last night where Chris Rock was trying to get in your ear it seemed. Can you talk about your focus. And do you even know what he was talking to you about?
KOBE BRYANT: You know, I didn’t know anything about it until it was mentioned to me after the game. I didn’t even know.
Q. I just want to talk to you about, you got Pau two years ago right before 30 games left in the season. Talk about what you’ve seen out of him and maybe the way you’ve challenged him or what the relationship has been like between you and what you saw in him last night.
KOBE BRYANT: Well, I mean, I think it’s just been experience for him. The first year we got him, he hadn’t been out of the first round, and all of a sudden we’re in the NBA Finals playing against a great team like the Celtics. So I think that was great experience for him. And as he got his feet wet, he started understanding more and more how we need him to play to get to a championship level. That’s all I think it was, because he had all the tools and all the skills.
Q. Doc was saying last night when you’re here for two years having people challenge you or saying you’re not tough, having people question you over your career, how much does that rile you up having people question you, especially your toughness?
KOBE BRYANT: Well, it’s just a challenge. It’s all a challenge, whether it’s you’re not tough enough or whether it’s making teammates better or you’re too old. It’s all just challenges that you have to accept as a player and move on.
Q. Can you talk about your approach to defending Rajon Rondo as far as he seemed like he was forcing it at times. Can you talk about your approach.
KOBE BRYANT: Well, you try to stay in front of him as much as you can. I’m not saying anything that teams haven’t tried to do in the past. He’s obviously turned into a phenomenal player, and I’ll just try to control his speed as much as possible.
Q. There were times it looked like he was trying to prove he could score on you. Did you sense that he was forcing that?
KOBE BRYANT: No, I didn’t sense that.
Q. In the technical sense how specifically has Pau complemented your game?
KOBE BRYANT: His versatility. You know, it’s important for me at this stage in my career to have bigs that can shoot the ball and can also post the ball, because then they can stretch the floor and I can penetrate and do things like that. And also it’s important to have other guys that can play make. At this stage of the playoffs you can’t have one guy that’s creating shots for everybody. You have to have other players that can make plays for others, and he does that.
Q. When you came in the league as a young guy, did you, at least in your mind, look at some of the established players and say, I’ve got to measure myself against them and play up to or better than them? And I’m wondering, now that you’re an old guy, do you ever sense a target on your back that some of these young guys want to make their names against you?
KOBE BRYANT: As a younger player I tried to just learn from the older guys. I understood that really it’s a body of work at the end of the day that you’re going to be measured by. It’s not by a game on a Tuesday night in February or March or whatever. You try to learn from them, and then at the end of the day, fast forward, eight, nine years from now you want to make sure you have a good body of work that can challenge some of your peers.
Q. If you’ve had players you’ve gone against year after year after year, how much does the match up change? Do you both learn a lot about each other? And are you playing basically differently than you would have when you first met up with him?
KOBE BRYANT: Depends on the player and depends on the improvements that they’ve made or how their body has changed. Just different things. It completely depends. It also depends on the system that they’re playing in, so it’s not really consistent.
Q. As a team last night you dominated rebounds. How crucial are your two seven footers Pau and Andrew in terms of enabling the team to tick and function?
KOBE BRYANT: Well, they did a great job of making sure that they boxed out their guys and limited their second chance opportunities obviously. And for us it’s important to stay after the boards and get second and third chances at it.