For years the NBA tradition was to have to the two teams in the Finals last year play each other or someone else on Christmas. But with the Kobe/Shaq game outdrawing the far-better Spurs/Pistons game, we could be looking at an annual affair. If Shaq keeps winning, it won't be much of a rivalry. With a 97-92 win, Shaq leads Kobe 3-0.
Maybe because it was in Miami or because the same game occurred last year, but the atmosphere just wasn't there. It still had a better feel to it than last year's game in Miami, which took place on the first day of March Madness and MLB's Opening Day.
Game-wise it wasn't as good as last year but was still very fun to watch. The score seesawed back and forth in the 4th quarter until a Gary Payton 3 put them ahead by two.
Kobe (like the previous two face-offs) outscored Shaq with 37 points. He scored 24 in the first half and kept them in the game.
Unlike his game vs. Dallas, Bryant slowed down in the 2nd half. Brian Cook stepped up with 15 points and hit several outside shots in the 3rd quarter. Lamar Odom had 16-18 and thoroughly outplayed his SF counterpart James Posey.
Dwayne Wade didn't perform as well as most thought going 5-15 with 18 but hit a key shot down the stretch. Gary Payton, who didn't step up in the time Jason Williams was injured, ironically played his best game of the year with 21 points off the bench and stepped up for Wade.
Shaq had one of his best rebounding games with 18 points and 17 boards.
LA led by 5 in the 3rd quarter and did a good job keeping the game close (the Lakers actually came into this game with a better record than Miami). It still doesn't excuse them blowing this game while leading in the final minutes. A win against Shaq would've been the ultimate morale booster for Kobe, but he still has to live with 0 wins.
O'Neal and Bryant may not have exchanged blows, but their teammates got in it. Odom and Payton had to be separated after the game ended and Wade committed a flagrant foul on Kobe.
After the game Odom said of Payton, "He's an extremely disrespectful young man." Disrespectful maybe, but young?
While Shaq may be the more root-able player in this rivalry, he is beginning to get ridiculously bitter, to the point where he won't even answer reporters' questions if they're Kobe related. At some point he has to realize that getting as far as possible away from Bryant was the best thing to ever happen to him.
So far Shaq has won all three games and they've all been entertaining. Whether it's Kobe or Shaq that's better, it's impossible to deny that Shaquille has the better supporting cast. Odom and Cook played well today, but the Center frontcourt of Mihm and Kwame Brown is pretty hit or miss.
Miami and LA play again on January 16th on TNT. When that game comes around, Kobe and Shaq won't be liking each other any more than they do now..
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By: David Pincus