Could Kobe Bryant’s 12th All-Star game, in which he locked up his fourth MVP award to match Bob Pettit’s all-time record, have been his finest?
His first came way back in 1998, when at 19, he was the youngest All-Star in NBA history. On Sunday afternoon at STAPLES Center it was 13 years later, but his legs looked explosive like they had in the late 90′s.
No. 24 looked more like No. 8 as he rose for an array of dunks from various angles, including a baseline reverse early in the first that may have been the best dunk of a game in which he tallied a personal career high of 37 points.
“He’s one hell of a player,” said Western Coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s Kobe. He does things like that, we shouldn’t be surprised.”
Five dunks, an array of jumpers and drives, two three-pointers and seven free throws helped him along the way to the 37 that were just five points shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time All-Star record of 42 points, set back in 1963.
“Let’s he honest, Kobe had it going, to say the least,” said East Coach Doc Rivers.
Thirty-two of Bryant’s points had already come by the 6:14 mark of the third quarter, enough to surpass his previous personal high of 31 that he scored in both 2002 and 2007. He had little left in the legs after that, but his sustained burst had given the lead a 17-point lead.
“Just being around so many young players gave me so much energy,” said Bryant of his effort. “But in the fourth quarter, I had nothing left. I exceeded my dunk quota for the game.
It wasn’t just the scoring on this day from Bryant, however, as he grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds to go with three assists and three steals. His previous high in boards in an All-Star game was seven, which he grabbed in both 2003 and 2006.
Bryant’s Lakers teammate Pau Gasol chipped in with 17 points and seven rebounds, most critically a tip-in of Bryant’s missed jumper with 53 seconds left, pushing what had been just a two-point lead back to four and eventually locking up a game the West had mostly dominated.
Bryant’s MVP trophy will now go up in what’s already a ridiculous trophy case, but as he explained after the game, it’s now time to focus on getting a different kind of trophy for the third straight season.
“We’re looking forward to it, we’re up for the challenge,” he concluded. “We all can’t wait to get started.”