Pierce became something more than a big-time scorer; he's now a big-time defender as well. While he had been doing an admirable job on Kobe throughout the first 3 games, last night's performance was remarkable. He held Bryant to just 19 points on 6-19 shooting. Even as LA was romping through the first half with an 18-point lead, Bryant was without a field goal. At the time, that stat was meant to show how balanced LA was and what a great distributor Bryant was. Yet, looking back, it's telling that Pierce was shutting Bryant down for an entire half. By the time Boston's offense got hot, and Bryant had to start shooting, it was too late to get a rhythm. Pierce used his size to trap and corral Bryant into difficult shots the entire game. Rarely was Bryant able to shoot cleanly. Too often, he had to pump fake or shoot fadeaways to get off a shot.
Combined with the record-setting comeback, Pierce's performance will undoubtedly vault him into the pantheon of Celtics' greats. In his 10th year with the team, Pierce has been a rock of consistency. He came back from multiple stab wounds and never missed a beat. He's played with great supporting casts and some downright awful ones. Yet, through it all, he never stopped putting up 20 a game. But, unlike past Celtics' stars, he had been unable to get his team to the Finals. They lost to the Nets in the 2002 E. Conference Finals but that would be as far as they'd get until this year.
Now up 3-1, a lead no team has ever relinquished in Finals history, the Celtics and Paul Pierce should establish a new legacy in Boston. It's been 20 years since the heyday of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, but Pierce finally has Boston back on top. You can now put the former Kansas star right up there along with Parish, Johnson, Havlicek, White, Cowens, Russell, etc. I know he doesn't have the number of rings that those guys do, but he also didn't have Hall of Famers surrounding him like they did. Until this year. Too often, an epic defensive performance will be glossed over in favor of the flashy shot. However, Pierce's play on defense in Game 4 should not be forgotten. He shut down the reigning MVP on the road in a game that LA should have won easily.
While Pierce's legacy just went up, Bryant's has just taken a major hit. Look at this scenario for a second. Up 24 in the first half, at home, about to tie the series at 2-2, the next game is at home, you have the reigning MVP, ... and they lose??? How does that happen?
This has to be on Kobe. His bench didn't do much, but Odom and Gasol combined for 36 points on 14-24 and 20 rebounds. That's more than enough.
It's Game 4 of the NBA Finals. You have a chance to tie the series with another home game looming on Sunday. The Lakers had an easy opportunity to go back to Boston up 3-2. If this is the league's MVP, I want to know why he let that slip away. If you want to be better than Jordan, or even Shaq, you have to be able to win a game like this.
As Boston was furiously storming back in the 3rd quarter, and continuing to outplay LA in the 4th, Kobe seemed powerless to stop it. He couldn't get off a clean shot and when he did, there wasn't any rhythm to it. Too often, it looked forced. But, against a defense as strong as Boston's, Kobe found it difficult to do much.
You know how often we talk about MJ's 'flu game' or his GW shot against Utah, I think this game may have the same effect on Kobe. He completely bombed in a game that LA had to have, and basically did have for half the game. His golden opportunity to bring LA back in the series was for naught. An MVP shouldn't be doing this at home in the playoffs (well unless you're Dirk Nowitzki).
Bryant is still a no-doubt Hall of Famer, and at age 29, still has plenty left in the tank. But, I'm wondering what his legacy will be if he never wins another title. Is it the 3 titles he won with Shaq? Or will it be Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals where he played horribly and let Boston erase a record-setting deficit?