With the 2007-08 season winding to an end, there remain but two strong candidates for the 2008 MVP Award: Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. With the two candidates seemingly neck and neck, Friday’s game between Paul’s New Orleans Hornets and Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers promised to be one of the best, and most significant, games of the season.
It didn’t disappoint.
At stake for each team was first place in the Western Conference, and home court advantage at least until the Finals. While this post-season will undoubtedly be one in which there are no clear favorites, and therefore no true upsets — at least in the loaded West — the team that secures the #1 seed will unquestionably face the easier playoff schedule. One game between the two teams could decide the final standings in the Western Conference.
It could also, according to many, be the deciding factor in a tough decision between Bryant and Paul for this year’s MVP.
The Lakers won the game, moving within striking distance of first place, and Kobe Bryant won the individual match-up. Unfortunately, many who had billed the game as the one that would decide the MVP Award predictably changed their stories — or simply remained silent (thankfully, not all of them). Call me crazy, but I’m firmly convinced that if the Hornets had won the game, many of those who had hailed it as the event to determine the MVP Award would be loudly proclaiming Chris Paul the unquestionable winner.
As the game ended and the Lakers secured the victory, most of them faded away, hoping their silence would cause us to forget their earlier proclamations.
Among the few that revisited the claim that Friday’s game was an MVP showdown, ESPN.com‘s J.A. Adande bravely insisted that the game “did little to settle the West standings… or the MVP race.” In his recap, he made the following statement:
One can’t help but wonder: Would he have arrived at the same conclusion if Chris Paul had turned in a near-triple double and led his team to victory in the second of back-to-back games?
If Adande’s position is simply that the MVP shouldn’t be decided in a single game, then I would have to agree. It is a regular season award, not a season-end award. But it seems to me that he isn’t so much opposed to the idea that either candidate had the opportunity to secure the personal victory in this single game, as much as he seems to think that neither player took advantage of that opportunity.
I couldn’t disagree more.
What more can Adande — or anyone else — ask from Bryant than the 26 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, and two steals he tallied while shooting 53% from the field on only 17 shots? As one NBA blogger and self-proclaimed “Kobe hater” simply put it, Kobe Bryant was “transcendent.”
His transcendence was evident in the first half, when he led the Lakers to their highest-scoring first quarter of the season and a 30-point first half lead over the Hornets. In the first frame alone, he registered 10 points, two assists, two rebounds, and a steal while making four of his first six shots. Phil Jackson credited him with providing the energy with which the Lakers dominated the Hornets throughout the first half.
In the second half, the Hornets mounted a comeback, led by Bryant’s fellow MVP candidate, Chris Paul — whose 15 points, 17 assists, and four steals were nothing to scoff at, though it is worth noting that he needed 14 shots, of which he made only four, to score his 15 points. Paul led the Hornets to within 4 points of the Lakers, but it was at this point that Bryant once again exerted his singular influence over the game.
In a span of 51/2 minutes to end the third quarter and begin the fourth, Bryant tallied 10 points, four rebounds, and two assists to push the Lakers lead from four back to 15. During this stretch, Bryant was involved, either by scoring or by assisting, in all but two points of the Lakers 17-6 run. In a matter of minutes, a New Orleans push that began at the end of the second quarter and brought the Hornets to within striking distance had turned nto another large Lakers lead.
Seemingly undiscouraged, New Orleans mounted yet another charge, using a 12-1 run to once again cut the Lakers’ lead to four. But Kobe Bryant refused to relinquish the victory, scoring four points and assisting on a Derek Fisher three-point jumper to push the lead back to six. From that point, Los Angeles never led by fewer than five points, until a Janero Pargo three-pointer as time expired.
The Hornets best efforts to put together a fourth quarter comeback simply weren’t enough to overcome a determined Kobe Bryant. In the final period, Bryant tallied nine points, three assists, and two rebounds. More significantly, he was directly involved, either by scoring or assisting, in 18 of the Lakers 25 fourth quarter points — and 25 of their final 32 points overall.
In a game that may have profound ramifications for the 2008 Playoffs, Chris Paul delivered a strong performance. His 17 assists are very impressive, and his effort in leading his team to not one but two come-from-behind surges and the brink of victory cannot be denied.
But Kobe Bryant’s Lakers were at some times supremely dominant, and at all times victorious. And through it all, Kobe Bryant was transcendent. And for those that felt that this game would decide between Paul and Bryant for MVP, the decision should be clear.
As he has been throughout the entire season, Kobe showed us again on Friday night that he is not only this league’s best player, but also its MVP.