No. 3: Kobe Bryant vs. Steve Smith — 2000 WCF, G6
History always points to Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals as an example of Kobe Bryant taking over a high-consequence game instead of Shaquille O’Neal.
In reality, he had a chance to season himself with a beautifully-composed offensive performance in Game Six of that series, with the Lakers hoping to avoid that seventh game altogether.
Game Six of this series was never truly a nailbiter — the Blazers led by double-figures for most of the fourth quarter — but one of the underlying highlights of that game came in the head-to-head duel between the up-and-coming Bryant and the underrated Steve Smith.
It’s a duel that wouldn’t have completely aged well; Smith and Bryant went back-and-forth, testing one another in the mid-post with fadeaways and step back shots inside the arc.
As had become a theme, creating offense by forcing O’Neal into pick-and-roll situations where he had to drop deep, and that opened up crevices for Smith and others to score.
All told, the two finished with these numbers:
Kobe Bryant: 33 points, 6 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks, 12-of-24 FG, 6-of-9 3P
Steve Smith: 26 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 10-of-18 FG, 5-of-5 FT
This game also helped create a chapter in the story of Bryant’s toughness. He had a sprained foot, which hampered his quickness, even though he was being defended by the 5-foot-10 Stoudamire on occasion.
He also hit three straight threes in the fourth quarter, always keeping Los Angeles within striking distance.
And as fate would have it, it was only just beginning.