From 2008-2010, Kobe Bryant won two NBA championships along with two Finals MVPs. However, Bryant’s road to prosperity during this run is what sets it apart from other championship campaigns. The Western Conference he dealt with was one of the most competitive of all-time.
The Daunting Western Conference
The Western Conference playoffs from 2008-2010 saw only two sub 50 win teams – the ‘09 Hornets (led by Chris Paul) and Jazz (led by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer). In turn, the Lakers’ first-round matchup against the Utah Jazz in ‘09 would be their only time facing a non-50 win team in three straight playoffs.
It’s unfathomable that both the ‘08 and ‘10 Western Conference playoffs consisted of all eight teams having 50-plus wins. For context, in ‘08, the ninth-seeded Atlanta Hawks had 37 wins, while the ninth-seeded Golden State Warriors would have locked the fourth seed in the East by five games. Moreover, ‘10 was very similar. The eighth-seeded Thunder would have slotted in at fourth in the East. On the contrary, their eighth-seeded counterpart Chicago Bulls would have missed the playoffs by nine games in the West.
Bryant and the Lakers played that Thunder team in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. Kevin Durant was the league’s leading scorer with 30.1 points per game and was second in MVP voting.
Couple all that with the fact that Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three consecutive Western Conference titles and back-to-back championships; it merely highlights the daunting challenges he faced just reaching the Finals. He played legitimate title contenders in nearly every series.
Precluding his stats from the Finals, Bryant averaged 30.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists during this venture through the Western Conference. This run also made him the only player in league history to score 600-plus points in the playoffs in three consecutive years.
Although 50-plus wins is a solid benchmark for respectable NBA competition, it certainly is not the tell-all of a good team. Kobe Bryant’s Western Conference Finals competition – and performances – encapsulate the difficulty of this run.
In 2008 he gentlemen swept the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. He beat a prime Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets in six games in 2009, all while averaging 34 points. Finally, Bryant defeated the powerhouse Phoenix Suns team during the 2010 West Finals.
Throughout these West Finals, Bryant averaged 32.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.1 assists on near 50-40-90 shooting splits. Moreover, he played all-world defense on players such as Manu Ginobili, Carmelo Anthony, and two-time MVP Steve Nash.
Bryant proved that he didn’t require another top-five player to dominate the Western Conference – let alone the entire league.
He is justly lauded for winning back-to-back championships with the Lakers, but seldom do you hear anyone revere him for his dominance over the Western Conference. The 2008-2010 West was riddled with contenders and MVP caliber talent, yet Bryant ceased to waver. It’s this playoff that cemented Byant’s legacy as an all-time great.