At the peak of his powers, Kobe Bryant was a wonder to behold.
The Black Mamba obviously had a long and fruitful prime – winning his first ring at 21 and carrying a depleted Laker squad to a playoff berth at 34 – but what he was able to accomplish night after night in the 2007-08 season was arguably the crème of the crop.
Kobe won his lone MVP trophy that year after averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists as he led the purple and gold to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and sure carried that swagger into the first-round matchup against the Denver Nuggets.
And after dropping a somewhat inefficient 32 in Game 1, he painted an absolute masterpiece in the second game of the series, outgunning a pair of surefire Hall of Famers in the process.
The night of April 23rd will be remembered not only for Bryant’s 49-point explosion, but also due to the way he found an extra level down the stretch against a pretty decent squad coached by George Karl.
His start wasn’t too shabby either, as the dropped 20 in the opening stanza while putting on a mid-range clinic.
Clearly Kenyon Martin, an athletic power forward who drew the assignment early in the series, wasn’t going to be the answer.
Hell, The Answer himself admitted there was no stopping Bryant that evening at STAPLES Center.
“Tonight, the way he was going, we probably could have put 10 people on the court and probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him,” Allen Iverson said.
The former Sixers star was excellent too with 31 points and six assists, but the Lakers led consistently heading into the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets did manage to cut the lead down to five points before Kobe decided he’d seen plenty and heard enough of Martin’s trash talk.
In a span of 4:19, Bryant scored 19 to push his tally to 49 and put the game out of reach, allowing the Lakers to travel to Denver up 2-0. He was replaced by current South Bay Lakers head coach Coby Karl, and the moment marked the first time a father coached against his son in NBA playoff history.
“He’s one of those players that you don’t really want to make mad,” said Lamar Odom after the game. “He can make shots from anywhere with people on him…You never want to wake a sleeping giant.”
Iverson and Carmelo Anthony combined for 54 points and J.R. Smith added 21 off the bench, but all of that paled in comparison to Bryant’s greatness.
Kobe shot 18-of-27 (that’s 2 makes out of every 3 shots for those keeping track at home), including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 at the charity stripe. He also had 10 dimes and four rebounds in 42 minutes of action.
Oh, and Vino did it while playing with a torn ligament in his right hand and a sore left knee.
Phil Jackson’s squad would go on to win both games in the Mile High City to sweep the Nuggets and advance to the second round in a campaign that would see them make it all the way to the NBA Finals.