He had 22 points by the end of the first quarter. It didn’t feel like he missed more than two shots through the half, and he wound up with 49 for the night. This time though, I couldn’t count more than a couple of bad shots among the bunch. There wasn’t a single possession where he held the ball for 15 or 20 seconds before launching a fadeaway jumper. No ill-advised pull-up 3s from four feet behind the arc when we had numbers. No hero complex here, at least not tonight. Kobe Bryant scored because he had to. Because Pau Gasol was pushed around a little, became tentative, and started passing the ball back out of the post without wanting it back. Because Lamar Odom decided to throw up about four airballs in the span of fifteen minutes. And because we pay Vladimir Radmanovic $30 million to contribute basically nothing. Kobe carried us in the first quarter to keep us in it. But it was all completely in rhythm. It felt smooth, natural. And as the game progressed, he adjusted accordingly. When his teammates got it going, he went back into the triangle, making a couple of nifty passes here and there, but remaining in the flow, even somewhat conspicuously. Luke Walton came up huge. Sasha Vujacic, The Machine, strong from the outside. But the story of the night was Kobe Bryant. There he was again when Denver made a run in the fourth, picking his spots, hitting the 3, then getting the and-one that essentially clinched the 2-0 series lead with about four minutes left on the clock. It was truly a masterful performance. I’m hardly a convert, but for this one night, alongside everyone else, I stood and chanted M-V-P. For this one night, I meant it.