Bryant guides West
Laker is MVP but Griffin gets cheers
LOS ANGELES — Somehow, even though the All-Star Game was in his city, his building, Kobe Bryant found himself on the back burner.
It wasn’t just the never-ending Carmelo Anthony trade talks or the Celtics and their four All-Stars and entire coaching staff.
The Lakers star had been passed up as the biggest name on the bill by a rookie from his own city.
Blake Griffin defined ubiquitous. On Friday, he and John Wall hooked up for the highlight of the rookie/sophomore game, Wall bouncing a ridiculous alley-oop pass from the free throw line for Griffin to flush on a reverse. The next day, Griffin broke out a gospel choir and a Kia sedan, jumping over the car to win the slam dunk contest. And with that, he had the entire city googly-eyed.
It overshadowed matters like Bryant getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, dipping his hands in the sacred cement not long after Griffin polished off his win in the dunk contest.
So with that, Bryant decided to use last night’s 148-143 Western Conference win to remind the Staples Center crowd who the headliner was, scoring 37 points, not far off the All-Star Game record of 42 set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.
Griffin scored 8 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists. He was the 44th rookie to be tapped for the All-Star Game.
Bryant was making his 13th appearance, and said he was fine with passing the torch, whether to Griffin or to Kevin Durant, who drilled a 3-pointer with 1:46 left to give the West a 142-135 lead, enough of a cushion to seal the win.
“I’ve been there,” Bryant said. “I’ve had my time. It’s not about that for me at this point in my career. It’s very important for the game to continue to have young stars emerge. It’s great for the league to get behind Blake and what he’s doing. It’s important for me to step aside. I’ve had that. It’s about me coming out and performing and staying healthy and doing things after 15 years, but it’s about them at this point.”
Bryant grabbed 14 rebounds to the amazement of Griffin and Kevin Love, who both had long double-double streaks during the first half of the season.
“I told them, ‘I’m the double-double king’ because I started stealing all their rebounds,” Bryant said. “Then in the locker room Kevin said, ‘You’ve got six rebounds?’ I said, ‘I’ve got more than you. It’s probably the first time and the last time.’ So I started stealing rebounds left and right and every time I got one I started pointing to them. They were kind of upset.”
One fell into his lap in the fourth quarter. Bryant missed a free throw short and it bounced right back to him. He looked both ways to see if anyone was going to guard him. Everyone was basically frozen, confused. So he pulled up for a short jumper.
“They were like, ‘That’s wack. You’ve got to go get the ball,’” Bryant said.
Bryant won his fourth All-Star Game MVP award, but LeBron James threatened to steal it. James’s 29-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist night was just the second triple-double in the game’s history, along with Michael Jordan’s in 1997 (14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists).
Bryant had a lighter moment with James in the third quarter, when he avoided one of James’s signature chase-down blocks and sneaked a dunk through.
“I told him if I had tried to go over the rim, he probably would have blocked it with his armpit,” Bryant said. “I kind of snuck it by him.”
Bryant set the tone early, driving to the baseline with 8:51 left in the first quarter for a two-handed, double-pump reverse dunk, a trick rarely seen from Bryant these days.
Eastern Conference coach Doc Rivers didn’t let his Celtics stars — Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo — play much, but when Allen was on the floor he tried his best to cool Bryant’s hot hand.
“Let’s just be honest, Kobe had it going — to say the least,” Rivers said. “I think at that point when we put him in, whoever would have come in would have tried to guard him.”
Bryant was on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter with 34 points, his MVP status all but a given. But he still eyed the record.
To the crowd, his numbers were irrelevant.
They chanted, “We want Blake.”
Griffin heard the cheers, but was more than willing to defer to Bryant.
“Before the game, I said I was going to let him do his thing,” said the Clippers sensation. “He just went out there and took over. So I mean, it was fun. It was fun to watch a player like that and really get his shots. He was just feeling it.”
Bryant said Griffin and the next generation will have their turn eventually.
“I’m on my way out,” Bryant said. “It’s important for them to carry the league.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.