The Lakers' long and winding road featured a stop Friday night in Philadelphia, former stomping ground of none other than Kobe Bean Bryant. Typically he receives no hero's welcome (though the boos weren't as hearty this time around), but give The Mamba credit: He doesn't hold grudges. Rather than react to a career of catcalls by phoning it in, Bryant pulled out some serious stops. Even better, the Lakers' 99-91 win actually allowed Philly and L.A. fans alike a trip down "Better Memory Lane" to a time when the Sixers were among the league's deadliest squads. After a foul-ridden first half and a brief-but-frightening scare, it was not just "The Kobe Show," but the "Remember When Mamba and AI Used to Battle Back in the Day? Power Hour."Matt Slocum/AP Photos
Kobe and AI made Lakers-Sixers fun again.
You couldn't help but hum a few bars from a certain movie theme, because the brief reenactment of the 2001 Finals from Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson tickled everybody's fancy. For starters, The Press-Enterprise's Jeff Eisenberg:
- Anyone who left the arena early missed a surprisingly entertaining second half as Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson waged a duel the caliber of some of the clashes when the 76ers all-star was in his heyday.
The Lakers won 99-91 to build momentum entering Sunday's renewal of the storied rivalry with Boston, Iverson's 21 second-half points upstaged by Bryant's 22 in the final two quarters of his return to his hometown.
"It was like 2001 all over again," Bryant said. "He's a scorer. He and I both. That's what we do. He's been scoring since he was 7 years old ... It's like riding a bike."
What made Bryant's second-half surge more memorable was that it looked as if he were destined to watch the final 20 minutes from the locker room. When Elton Brand dived for a loose ball and landed hard on the outside of Bryant's left ankle early in the third quarter, Kobe immediately grabbed for his ankle and gestured to the bench. But he walked off the injury during a timeout and returned without missing any action.
The L.A. Times' Broderick Turner enjoyed himself some blast from the past:
- A listless game between the Lakers and 76ers on a cold Friday night became a showdown between Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson.Bryant and Iverson raised the temperature of the game in the second half, the two of them taking the game over, giving the crowd inside Philadelphia's Wachovia Center something to get excited about. The Lakers pulled out the victory, 99-91, because Bryant had 22 of his 24 points in the second half and because he has a better supporting cast. Iverson had 21 of his season-high 23 points in the second half.
"It was like back in the day," Bryant said. "It was exciting to see him get hot like that and for me to switch over and guard him. It was like 2001 all over again."
Mind you, it wasn't a total carbon copy of the early decade face off. Sixers mainstay (and former Laker) Aaron McKie noted a few differences to The Philadelphia Daily News' Phil Jasner:
- Sixers assistant Aaron McKie said any time the teams meet, there will be heightened interest."The difference between then and now is, back then both teams were in the hunt and there was more to it," McKie said. "It became a measuring stick when they came East or we went West. We were playing for something, and they were playing for something. There were a lot of implications."
Still, McKie said it was important to understand that "Kobe and Allen have always been different players, getting it done different ways. In football, Allen would be a scatback, running around. Kobe is more cerebral, trying to find ways to pick guys apart."
He added: "Now, Allen has to do it more with a team effort. He has to rely on his teammates, on guys giving him help and not feeling as if he has to put a cape on and put everything on his shoulders."
It was no surprise to see Kobe caught up in the "back to the future" vibe, because, as ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin noted, 24 wants even more old school flavor in today's NBA:
- "I'd like for us to go back to the old rules," Bryant said. "Get rid of the 'crutch defense,' known as the zone defense, and have guys guard man-to-man and stuff like that [and allow] hand checking and all that. I think that's better basketball."
Ron Ron had some pep in his recently injured step.
It's important to note, however, the entire game wasn't about Kobe vs. Allen. For starters, the visitors exhibited some terrific D. Also, between the Christmas Day concussion and recent foot problems, Ron Artest hasn't been much of a force throughout January. So it was a welcome sight when Artest set the purple and gold's early tone, racking ten first half points and constantly attacking the rim. And Ron Ron being Ron Ron, he also waxed on old times, but his fond memories were of a more rough and tumble nature, as noted by McMenamin:
- Artest started his night Friday by greeting former AAU teammate Elton Brand (who Artest and Lamar Odom played together with from the time they were 11 years old) with a warm hug, getting all of his tender feelings out of his system before spending the rest of the game banging against bodies like a tenderizer takes to a chicken breast. Artest reminisced about the three of them afterward.
"We got in a lot of fights," he said. "Me and Elton got in fights a couple times. Me and Lamar got in fights. Elton and Lamar never got in a fight though. It was always me."
With all that history between them, Odom is a good guy to trust then when he got into a fight (well "argument" or even "discussion") with a reporter after the game about whether this was Artest's best effort as a Laker.
Said Odom: "The best is yet to come."
Lakers Blog's Mark Medina provides a detailed analysis of key sequences for Artest.
-A win against Boston on Sunday wouldn't just be cool for bragging rights. It would tie Phil Jackson with Pat Riley as the winningest coach in Lakers' history.