12/25/05: Kobe scores 37, Shaq wins

For years, the NBA tradition was for the two teams from last year’s Finals to face each other or someone else at Christmas. But with the Kobe / Shaq game beating the best Spurs / Pistons game, we could be looking at an annual event. 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 happened last year, but the atmosphere just wasn’t there. It still had a better feel than last year’s game in Miami, which took place on the first day of March Madness and MLB Opening Day. As for the game, it wasn’t as good as last year, but it was a lot of fun to watch. The scoreboard rocked back and forth in the fourth quarter until a Gary Payton 3 put them ahead by two.

Kobe (like the previous two matches) 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 second half. Brian Cook led with 15 points and hit several outside shots in the third quarter. Lamar Odom was 16-18 and outscored his SF counterpart James Posey.

Dwayne Wade didn’t perform as well as most thought going 5-15 with 18, but he landed a key shot down the stretch. Gary Payton, who didn’t step up at the time Jason Williams was injured, ironically played his best game of the year with 21 points off the bench and replaced Wade. Shaq had one of his best rebounding games with 18 points and 17 rebounds.

LA led by 5 in the third quarter and did a good job keeping the game close (the Lakers actually came into this game with a better record than Miami). Still no excuse for ruining this game as they lead in the final minutes. A win against Shaq would have been the best morale booster for Kobe, but he has yet to live with 0 wins.

O’Neal and Bryant may not have traded punches, but their teammates got in. Odom and Payton had to be separated after the game ended and Wade flagrantly fouled Kobe. After the game, Odom said of Payton: “He is an extremely disrespectful young man.” Disrespectful perhaps, but young?

While Shaq may be the player most able to take root in this rivalry, he’s starting to get ridiculously bitter, to the point where he won’t even answer journalists’ questions if they are related to Kobe. At some point he has to realize that getting as far away from Bryant as possible was the best thing that could happen to him.

So far, Shaq has won all three games and they have all been entertaining. Whether it’s Kobe or Shaq, it’s impossible to deny that Shaquille has the best supporting cast. Odom and Cook played well today, but Mihm and Kwame Brown’s center front court is pretty unpredictable. Miami and LA will play again on January 16 on TNT. When that game comes around, Kobe and Shaq won’t like each other any more than they do now.

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