Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time. His impact on the game is legendary, and everyone all over the world recognizes his name.
What makes Kobe particularly special is his 5 championship rings. He has managed to win all five with one team and has etched his name in Lakers' history forever. During each of his seven Finals appearances, he has left his impact long after they occurred. By winning five of his Finals appearances, he has a fantastic record that will challenge most of the all-time greats.
Nonetheless, Kobe is a very polarizing figure and many will question his decision-making and efficiency at times. Even during the Finals, these criticisms were often well-documented. But Kobe Bryant has showcased some of the greatest Finals performances in NBA history.
First Series Appearance: 1999-2000 NBA Finals vs Pacers (4-2)
Stats: 15.6 ppg; 4.6 rpg; 4.2 apg
Result: NBA Champion (1st)
The Truth: 21-year-old Kobe Bryant had his first taste of success, by being the second-best player on the championship Lakers. Shaq was the most dominant player in the league and was simply unstoppable. Nobody could stop him in the paint, and he carried the Lakers to a title. By looking at his numbers, Kobe looked like a simple bystander on the court.
But Shaq was the focal point all series long, and it would have been completely foolish to not give him the ball every time down the floor. At the same time, Bryant showcased tremendous on-ball defensive skills by completely shutting down Reggie Miller in Game 1 (1-16 FG). Bryant then was forced out of Games 2 and 3 with an injury, only to return with one of the clutchest Finals performances in Game 4. Kobe scored 8 points in an overtime win when the Lakers needed him most.
Shaq was the MVP and most dominant player, but he would not have it if not for Kobe Bryant’s clutch performances on both ends of the floor.
Second Series Appearance: 2000-2001 NBA Finals vs 76ers (4-1)
Stats: 24.6 ppg; 7.8 rpg; 5.8 apg;
Result: NBA Champion (2nd)
The Truth: This was the season where Kobe officially placed himself as one of the Top 2 players in the league with Shaq. He was extremely productive all season long, and that continued into the Playoffs.
With Shaq as his dominant self, Kobe was equally as dominant. No team stood a chance, and the Lakers superstars destroyed teams with only one loss the entire Playoffs at the hands of Allen Iverson. Shortly after losing Game 1 to the Sixers, the Lakers swept the next four games with Shaq earning his third Finals MVP Award in a row. Even though Shaq was deserving of his award, Kobe deserved just as much credit for this ring as Shaq did. This becomes a common trend, as they equally needed each other for their rings.
Third Series Appearance: 2001-2002 NBA Finals vs Nets (4-0)
Stats: 26.8 ppg; 5.8 rpg; 5.3 apg
Result: NBA Champion (3rd)
The Truth: Kobe Bryant was spectacular in the Finals vs the Nets, especially during the final two games of the series. Kobe’s clutch shooting was needed once more, and he delivered.
Led by superstar point guard Jason Kidd, the Nets were very difficult to beat. They played smart, kept the games tight, and put the Lakers back against the wall. The Nets also employed the Hack-a-Shaq strategy, and Kobe needed to drain jumpers as the game came to a close on separate occasions. Needless to say, Kobe was very successful.
Kobe may have outplayed Shaq on maybe two games during the series, but Shaq was still deserving of his Finals MVP Award. Kobe’s value was just as important to the Lakers, and he showcased incredible defensive tenacity by containing Jason Kidd throughout the series.
Fourth Series Appearance: 2003-2004 NBA Finals vs Pistons (1-4)
Stats: 22.6 ppg; 2.8 rpg; 4.4 apg
The Truth: This was a very surprising loss for Kobe, Shaq, and the Lakers. They were very lucky to reach the Finals, thanks to Derek Fisher’s legendary clutch shot with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
This Finals loss was possibly Kobe’s biggest failure in his career, as he failed to shoot a high percentage during the entire series. Shaq was largely contained by Detroit’s tenacious defense, along with Kobe who was forced to take contested shots. While the Pistons had an excellent team built off of chemistry and teamwork, Kobe seemed like a one-man show at times.
Kobe’s failure to lead the Lakers to a win was quite a black mark on his legendary Finals career.
Fifth Series Appearance: 2007-2008 NBA Finals vs Celtics (2-4)
Stats: 25.7 ppg; 4.7 rpg; 5.0 apg
The Truth: Kobe suffered a beatdown at the hands of the Celtics. To be fair, it looked like Boston’s year all season long. They added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join offensive superstar Paul Pierce. Add in a young star in Rajon Rondo and the Celtics were a force from the jump.
Kobe played well, and so did Gasol, but Boston was just too good. Pierce was hungry for a title, and so was Garnett and Allen. Doc Rivers did a fantastic job managing this team, and the Lakers were no match. Kobe produced his usual 25-5-5 stat-line but was forced to accept another Finals loss until the following year.
Sixth Series Appearance: 2008-2009 NBA Finals vs Magic (4-1)
Stats: 32.4 ppg; 5.6 rpg; 7.4 apg
Result: NBA Champion (4th)
The Truth: This one was well deserved, and there was not any doubt in anyone’s mind that Kobe would get this one.
He was a man on a mission all season long, following an embarrassing loss to the Celtics the year before. Kobe wanted to prove he is the best player in the league, and that he can win a ring without one of the most dominant players of all time as his teammate.
Kobe was easily the best player all series long vs the Celtics, and no one really stood a chance against him and the Lakers team. He was unstoppable in this series, and none of the Magic defenders could really slow him down. Even when Kobe got doubled, he managed to make the right play every single time.
This was possibly his best all-around NBA Finals performance.
Seventh Series Appearance: 2009-2010 NBA Finals vs Celtics (4-3)
Stats: 28.6 ppg; 8.0 rpg; 3.9 apg
Result: NBA Champion (5th)
His fifth championship might very well be the sweetest. Kobe managed to lead his Lakers team to a second Championship in a row, despite a poor 6-24 shooting night in the pivotal Game 7. The focus must be on his Game 7, because that was where most of his criticisms were fired.
Kobe was not shooting the ball well all night, mainly due to finger injuries and pure exhaustion, but he managed to make shots when they counted. Especially from the free-throw line, Kobe was clutch down the stretch. Not to mention, he snatched 15 rebounds vs a team that featured defensive monster, Kevin Garnett.
Adding the fifth ring also gave him one more than Shaq, ending his determination to one-up his former teammate and the fire that fueled his performances every year.