CLEVELAND — Kobe Bryant’s defensive stance looked sharpened. Kyrie Irving’s shoes squeaked louder. And the crowd anticipation grew considerably.
Irving wound up in an isolation play against Bryant, and it brought up an offseason storyline all too perfectly.
Irving, the Cavaliers guard who won 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year honors, approached Bryant this summer at the U.S. Olympic training camp about going one-on-one. As Bryant recalled later, he thought Irving is “either confident or crazy” for believing he could match up with the Lakers’ star.
But soon enough, the two trash talked and agreed to a game of one-on-one at an undetermined time with $50,000 going to the winner’s charity.
So there the two were, ready to provide a sneak preview of that game. Both made sure neither would end up looking bad on the highlight reel guaranteed for SportsCenter replays.
Standing at the top of the key, Irving drove right and then dribbled the ball behind his back. That created separation as he drove left into the lane. But Bryant quickly cut off his driving lane to deny Irving an easy look. Irving then posted up, pump faked and attempted a turnaround jumper.
Bryant blocked Irving’s shot with his left hand.
“When we were matched up on the top of the floor, you could feel the whole building get behind that,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 100-94 loss Monday to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Defensively, I tried to take a stand.”
That Bryant did.
It also marked one of the lone highlights of the Lakers’ disastrous performance against Cleveland. That game featured the Lakers committing 18 turnovers, yielding 24 points off those turnovers and struggling at the free throw line (25 of 40).
The game also showcased Bryant carrying most of the work load, dropping 42 points on a 16 of 28 clip. It also featured Bryant playing very little defense.
Well, except against Irving.
“It was enjoyable and it was fun,” Bryant said. “He keeps you young and keeps it competitive. The bantering back and forth is kind of a lost art, trash talking is a lost art, especially with this generation of players. Everybody grows up around everybody so nobody wants to trash talk. But I’m from the old school.”
And with that came this declaration.
Said Bryant: I’m the best trash talker in the NBA.”
He clearly showed it in his exchange with Irving this summer, an incident that instantly went viral. Bryant backed it up with his play against Irving.
Now the public needs more than just a sneak preview. They need a full fledged one-on-one contest between Irving and Bryant.
But that apparently remains on hold.
“He said he needed to get his money up a little bit and then he was going to play me,” Bryant said. “But he doesn’t want that problem.”
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