On Thursday night at Staples Center, Kobe Bryant tied a career-high in assists and LeBron James took over in the second half as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 109-102.
Bryant started the game actively looking to set up teammates and scored 10 points and delivered eight assists in the first 12 minutes. Prior to the game, Lakers coach Byron Scott stated that his 36-year-old veteran would be limited to a maximum of 32 minutes, and the coach stuck with his guidelines even when the crowd began chanting "We want Kobe" in the fourth quarter, when James took over and the game started to slip away.
"Yea, I heard the fans [chant] 'We want Kobe' with about eight minutes left," Scott said after the game. "I wanted to say, 'I want him too,' but I'm not going to do it."
In terms of the two superstars, Bryant dominated the first half, and James won the second half. Consequently, the Lakers led at halftime, and the Cavs led at the final buzzer.
In 17 high-quality first-half minutes, Bryant made five of nine shots for 12 points and dished out 10 assists. At that point, statisticians began digging through the record books and noted that Bryant's career-high in the passing category came way back in 2002, when he played against an old great by the name of Michael Jordan. That night, Bryant notched 15 assists. This night, he would set his career-high at 17 assists.
"When it comes to assists, it's really the other guys that make you look good," Bryant said after the game, recalling former teammate Shaquille O'Neal yelling "make me look good" when the big man passed the ball.
On Thursday night, Bryant faced James in a classic matchup that even featured the 36-year-old Laker guarding the 30-year-old Cavalier one-on-one in the final two minutes of the game. Bryant won one duel, and James won another. Ultimately, both put on memorable performances.
In the 20th episode of the "Kobe versus LeBron" series, James scored 23 points in the second half en route to his 14th victory in the head-to-head matchup. By the time the final buzzer rang out, James finished with 36 points, five rebounds and five assists. Bryant's 19 points, 17 assists and five rebounds hardly paled in comparison.
"This is different for me because I'm used to being hated," Bryant said after the game. "You go up against somebody and they give you a hug."
Bryant added with a smile, "It's a different feeling, but I'm really appreciative of it. It feels good. Getting a hug feels good."
"It's always fun and a pleasure," James said about playing against Bryant. "You don't have many guys that come through the sport like Kobe [Bryant]."
Quote of the night: "If I can't (compete at an elite level) I'll call it quits. I'm not going to have you guys see me out there looking like sh%$. You guys (media) kill me enough as it is." - Kobe Bryant
Notes: Jordan Hill finished with 20 points, regularly receiving passes from Bryant. Bryant said the concept of being shut down would be difficult to go along with, but if management decided the time was right, he would adhere to their wishes. Bryant will sit out the Lakers' trip to Utah on Friday night. He said he would watch the game with his family. Nick Young continued to struggle from the field missing nine of 13 shots. Young's free throw streak of 31 stright free throws also came to an end.