How awesome is it that players from visiting teams receive more attention than the home team? That is essentially what occurred this past week as the New York Knicks played host to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, followed by LeBron James and the Cavs, and finally the “Boston ‘Three’ Party” and the Celtics. It was one slaughter after another in New York.
Now, I wanted to write about this after LeBron’s performance, but I wanted to wait and see how the Celtics followed the acts of Kobe and LeBron, as well as the Cavs/Lakers game yesterday (8 February). Nevertheless, which performance was the more impressive? Depends on what you covet. Let’s break it down.
First, it was Kobe Bryant’s 61-point performance on Monday (2 Feb). It was an impressive shooting performance as he went 19-for-31 from the floor (61.3 percent) with three 3-pointers. He was also perfect from the free throw line hitting all twenty attempts! However, he contributed very little else — three assists, one block, ZERO rebounds. He accomplished this in over 36 minutes of action as the Lakers cruised to a 126-117 victory over the Knicks.
The slaughter continued as LeBron and the Cavs came to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (4 February). And LeBron showed no mercy as he went for a pseudo-triple-double (one rebound was later credited to Ben Wallace — correctly — leaving LeBron one board shy of the feat). James went for 52 points on 17-for-33 (51.5 percent) from the field and two 3-pointers. He also hit 16 of 19 from the free throw line [84.2 percent]. Unlike Kobe, he contributed everywhere — officially nine rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks. He did this in just over 44 minutes of action as the Cavaliers got by New York 107-102.
To me, there is no question who had the better game of the two — LeBron. So much was made of Kobe’s 61 points and how it was “the most ever allowed by the Knicks at MSG” as though the Knicks are really good and MSG was as daunting of a place to play as it once was. Just because the games were in New York means nothing (big city bias from the sports media). Kobe’s performance was impressive, but there is more to basketball than simply scoring points (yes, I know you have to score to win). Scoring is nice, but it does not always translate to victories (for example, see the 2003-04 season when Tracy McGrady won the scoring title on a last place Orlando Magic team; ironically the players with the highest rebound [Kevin Garnett] and assist [Jason Kidd] were on teams that won their division — Timberwolves and Nets, respectively). LeBron’s stat line was more complete and displayed a better all-around performance than Kobe’s.
Now, some have argued that LeBron went off simply because he felt the need to top what Kobe accomplished two nights earlier, and I do not doubt that at all. However, I would also argue that Kobe went off in order to show that the Lakers can win without Andrew Bynum and that, once Bynum returns, they are the team to beat. The Lakers’ follow-up performances against the Celtics and Cavs — both wins — also prove that point; as well as that the team really is more than Kobe. But that performance against the Knicks was a statement and I do not think he would have scored 61 had Bynum been healthy and in the lineup; just like LeBron probably would not have blown up had Kobe not scored 61.
Again, both performances are impressive. And if you are looking strictly at scoring, then certainly Bryant’s 61 is more impressive. But I do not think there is any question that LeBron’s 52 on a near triple double is far more impressive. And not just because it happened at MSG (in fact, the venue adds nothing to the value of the performances) but because it was more complete and showed more aspects of brilliance.
[NOTE: images from Getty Images; big ups!]