Nike debuted a fantastic commercial on Wednesday—er, sorry, #MambaDay—in which Kobe Bryant conducts a chorus of embittered rival fans and players. Supporters from the Celtics, Blazers, Kings—even Benny the Bull, for some reason—belt out their heartbreak and frustration with #24, but, to my surprise, the Spurs went unrepresented. So, Spurs fans, let's take a trip down memory lane and count down Kobe's five biggest games against the Silver and Black. It will be painful, but I think we owe it to him.
5. 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5. Kobe averaged 32 points-per-game in this series, and, in a pivotal Game 5, he didn't disappoint. 36 points (5-11 from 3), 7 rebounds, 6 assists. But, the Spurs took the 3-2 series lead after Kobe passed up a chance to take a go-ahead 3-pointer and dished to Robert Horry. Horry missed, the Spurs won the title, and Big Shot Bob joined us for two more. (See—these memories aren't all going to be painful...well, except for the rest of them.)
4. 2001 Western Conference Finals, Game 1. Kobe puts up 45 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists in the Alamodome, and the Lakers win the next three games to complete the sweep. Two reasons why I don't think this one is all that bad. First, Derek Anderson, the Spurs' best Kobe defender, sat out Game 1, the victim of a Juwan Howard flagrant in the Conference Semifinals. Secondly, this game prompted Shaq to declare to the media, "I think [Kobe's] the best player in the league, by far." That's right—this Kobe performance was so improbable that it prompted his archnemesis to call him the best player in the league. Here's a particularly funny sequence from Game 4 in which Gregg Popovich gets T'd up after a Kobe fastbreak.
3. 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 4. You might remember this as the season in which the increasingly vitriolic Kobe/Shaq duo carried the increasingly geriatric Gary Payton/Karl Malone duo to a Finals appearance. If you're a Spurs fan, you definitely remember Game 5 of this series, when a certain cuckolder sank a game-winner with .4 seconds left on the clock. (I was watching that game on a 9" TV in my parents' backyard and even I could see the shot clock didn't start on time–but I digress.) What you probably don't remember, though, is Kobe's Game 4 performance: 42 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 0 turnovers. All after flying in from Colorado–where his sexual assault trial was ongoing—that afternoon. Wow. This clip is what probably qualifies as the dagger: Kobe hits a 3 and follows it up with a reverse layup to put the Lakers up 10.
2. 2002 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 4. In this series, Tim Duncan averaged a 29-17 (and 3.2 blocks) for the Spurs, who were all that stood between the Lakers and a Conference Finals date with the Kings. In Game 4, the Spurs blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead. But you know what's even worse? They a blew a fourth quarter lead in every game in this series. Even worse than that? In the final minute, the Spurs have the ball, the score is tied (thanks to back-to-back three pointers from—who else?—Kobe), and the following sequence plays out: Tim Duncan offensive foul, Robert Horry miss, Shaq offensive rebound, Bruce Bowen almost-steal, Derek Fisher miss, Kobe offensive rebound, Kobe go-ahead layup (watch below), Tim Duncan miss, game over. Just brutal. Kobe finishes 28-7-3, the Lakers win Game 5 and, in the Conference Finals, Tim Donaghy ushers them into the last of three straight Finals appearances.
1. 2008 Western Conference Finals, Game 5. The Spurs find themselves in a must-win Game 5 at Staples Center, needing to rally from a 3-1 deficit to defend the 2007 title, and jump out to a 17-point first half lead. Their hopes are thwarted as Kobe—remember, this was his MVP season—goes 16 of 30 for 39 points, with 17 coming in the fourth quarter. For Kobe, this is the first of three consecutive Western Conference Championships, which net him two more NBA Championships. And it happens exactly 364 days after Kobe demanded a trade from the Lakers' front office to get away from the "mess" of the 2006-07 season. Can you imagine? That's like Al Pacino almost quitting The Godfather, or Alec Guinness hating Star Wars.
When Tim Duncan retires, it's hard to imagine he'll take 50 shots in his last game. Or play 42 minutes. Or, ya know, shove Gordon Hayward across half-court just so he can get intentionally fouled on the inbounds for points 59 and 60. But I have to admit, I got a little misty-eyed watching Kobe leave the court for the last time. I'm going to miss the guy and his killer instincts, even for as many times as those instincts killed the Spurs. And besides—if it weren't for Kobe, we might not have a nickname for Matt Bonner.