Updated: April 21, 2010, 9:15 AM ET

1. Bryant A Little Older, A Little Wiser

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

It always seems personal for Kobe Bryant, a continuous quest to test himself against the sport like a golfer taking on the course.

A year after he realized his vision of winning a championship without Shaquille O'Neal, he suddenly had to prove himself all over again, to demonstrate that he can still steer the Lakers to a single playoff victory even with more than 37,000 NBA minutes on his odometer.

And so, while the Oklahoma City Thunder were deservedly emboldened that they could come into Staples Center and give the defending champions all they could handle over two games, it probably gives equal bits of satisfaction and relief to the Lakers and Bryant that he still can will them to victory the way he did Tuesday night by scoring 15 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter.

"What'd Mark Twain say?" Phil Jackson asked rhetorically. "Rumors of my demise are overrated or whatever?"

Yes, there were growing numbers of doubters.

"After 13 years, you'd think they'd know better," Bryant said.

But the point is, it's been 13 years. At some point, that long time in the league ceases to be a body of work and starts to work against the body. His days of getting by on physical superiority are over. When I saw Grant Hill in Phoenix over the weekend, I told him that Kobe had come to remind me of him: a former high-flyer forced to play a ground-based game.

"It happens," Hill said.

That it happened to Bryant at age 31 is what's so eye-opening. But that's what comes with more than two full season's worth of playoff games, plus playing on so many nights when he should have been soaking in a hot tub.

His father, Joe Bryant, watched his son play in person for the first time in five years because he's been coaching in Japan, and saw the same old Kobe.

"It's all part of it, and what makes him special is he plays through it," Joe Bryant said. "A lot of athletes will use that as an excuse. That's what makes him special. You guys will understand it once he retires and you look back. I remember some players, their knee was a little sore and they couldn't play. But Kobe played through it all."

Even this recent slump of 30 percent shooting.

"You make shots and you miss shots," the father said, in a tone of voice I've heard his son use many times. "It's all part of the game."

Hill has been able to remain effective because he isn't asked to carry a team anymore. Kobe takes so many shots that if he shoots a low percentage the whole Lakers-based portion of the L.A. economy will suffer from a short playoff run. Bryant hasn't suffered a single injury as catastrophic as Hill's ankle that required five surgeries and wiped away entire seasons. But Bryant's fractured finger and sprained ankle and various other ailments have left him off balance, by his own admission. He looks out of sync; his jumps shots have been coming up short.

He can't blow past people or soar over them, and the way the Thunder played Tuesday night the lane ceased to be an option.

The Thunder don't have a Dwight Howard to single-handedly deter shots. That might even work to their advantage. Players get lured into thinking they have a layup, then a long arm -- be it Kevin Durant's or Serge Ibaka's or someone else's -- appears to knock the ball away. They blocked 17 shots Tuesday, the most ever by a Lakers' opponent in the playoffs. It was so bad that Lamar Odom wound up shooting a rarely seen fallaway hook shot.

Bryant had five of his shots blocked. And so he found his own alternate ways to score. A free throw line jumper. A turnaround jumper and one over Eric Maynor when the point guard got caught in a switch. A pump-fake to get Jeff Green airborne and draw a foul to get to the line. Another long jumper over Durant, originally ruled a 3-pointer, but dropped to a 2 after video review. He scored eight consecutive points for the Lakers, got through a mini-duel with Durant (who scored 32 of his own but missed a 3 for the lead near the end) and the Lakers won 95-92.

"[It's] being about what I do, what I do best," Bryant said. "So I just had to be more aggressive and then the truth would follow through."

Still alive. Still capable of nights like this. Although he denies it, I think he needed to see it again for himself, too, just as much as he needed to show it to everyone else. It's still there.

J.A. Adande is a columnist for ESPN.com.

Dimes past: April 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17 | 18 | 19

2. Big Baby Fills Garnett's Shoes

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

Davis
Davis

BOSTON -- This just in from Danny Ainge's basement: Kevin Garnett was vocal and animated while watching the game with a few buddies on Ainge's sofa, but he didn't break any furniture and he kept the decibel level low enough to avoid waking his 2-year-old daughter.

Which means only one thing went wrong for the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night: Paul Pierce guessed incorrectly afterward when he said Garnett "probably hit his head on the ceiling a couple of times."

If that crashing of cranium and plaster had actually happened, there's no doubt it would have been violent enough to awake not only Garnett's daughter, nicknamed "Peanut," but probably a few of the Ainge children, too.

Instead, peaceful slumber was all Garnett's toddler, Kapri, experienced as she slept upstairs while KG and some buddies retreated to Ainge's man cave to watch Boston's 106-77 destruction of Miami in Game 2 of their first-round series.

To read the entire column, click here

3. Horford, Smith Too Much For Bucks

By Bret LaGree
TrueHoop Network

Smith
Smith

With center Andrew Bogut sidelined and coach Scott Skiles primarily using his best available defender, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, on Joe Johnson, the Milwaukee Bucks simply can't handle Josh Smith and Al Horford. In the Hawks' 96-86 Game 2 victory, they outscored the Bucks 67-45 during the 30:23 that both Horford and Smith were on the court. When neither was on the court, the Bucks outscored Atlanta 19-4 in just 6:42. (Take out the final 1:50 of garbage time and the margin was 15-4 in favor of the Bucks in 4:52.)

Smith's 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists in Game 2 left him one assist short of posting the first playoff triple-double by a Hawks player since Mookie Blaylock accomplished the feat in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals. Horford had 20 points and 10 rebounds of his own as the young post duo combined to make 17 of 24 shots from the field and 7 of 8 free throws. With Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby making only 4 of 18 shots from the field, and the other seven Hawks getting to the line only 12 times between them, such offensive efficiency was essential to the easy victory.

Even Johnson, who (as is typical) took the largest role in Atlanta's offense, benefited from Smith and Horford's consistent ability to create good looks against the Bucks. Johnson scored a team-leading 27 points (he also recorded 6 assists against three turnovers) but needed 23 shots to get those points while either Smith or Horford assisted on 5 of his 12 makes.

Not that their impact is felt only on the offensive end. They have combined to block 14 shots in two games; against Milwaukee's offensively limited starting frontcourt of Mbah a Moute and Kurt Thomas, both Smith and Horford either can switch screens and pick up Milwaukee's guards early in a possession -- without fear of serious repercussion for leaving their initial assignment -- or help on those guards late in a possession if they beat Atlanta's perimeter defense.

To read more from LaGree, check out Hoopinion.

4. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Tuesday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.

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