Kobe Bryant’s death is tragic and cruel. The loss of all of the victims of that terrible helicopter crash is tragic and cruel. Kobe’s status as an icon and part of our culture makes his untimely death reverberate throughout the entire world. Many people feel a great sense of loss despite never knowing Kobe because he represented something larger than himself: an icon, an image, a mentality. He was the embodiment of skill and discipline on the basketball court. I feel that the best way I can honor Kobe is to highlight what he did best: destroy the Denver Nuggets at the game of basketball. He served as a nemesis to them from early on in his career and never truly lost to Denver when it mattered most. Here’s a look back at some of his greatest performances against the Nuggets.
Drops 38 points and one huge block in Game 2 of the NBA Playoffs first round
The Nuggets faced Kobe three separate times in the playoffs, they were 0-3 in those series. Their best chance came in 2012 as Bryant was enjoying the last few all pro level years of his career. The Nuggets would come back from being down three games to one and forced a game seven before losing a lead late and ultimately the series as well. In game 2 of that series Bryant proved he still had plenty left in the tank. The Nuggets through a barrage of defenders at him including Danilo Gallinari, Aron Afflalo and even Kenneth Faried at times but none of them could keep Kobe from the cup. When Denver did finally mount a run in the third quarter, the momentum was completely reversed when Bryant had an emphatic chase down block on Al Harrington.
The old man triple double
Even the Tim Connelly era got a taste of Kobe’s greatness. In his first season back from surgery to repair a ruptured achilles tendon, and what would end up being the second to last season of his career, Kobe had a Vino performance against a Brian Shaw led Nuggets team. The explosion that made him so exciting to watch throughout his career was clearly gone, but Bryant’s exquisite basketball IQ came through while he shredded the Nuggets with his passing and an old man game that would make Andre Miller proud. It would end up being the only triple double Kobe ever had against the Nuggets as he finished with twenty-three points, eleven rebounds and eleven assists.
Nuggets get embarrassed in the playoffs by the Black Mamba
When the Nuggets won fifty games in the 2007-2008 season they were rewarded with nothing more than the eight seed and a matchup with the one seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Still, the ultra competitive Western Conference made a lot of fans feel like this Nuggets team, behind Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, could pull off the upset. Kobe did not feel that way. In Game 1 he had to will his way to thirty-two points with George Karl assigning the bigger Kenyon Martin as his primary defender but Bryant came out in game two leaving no doubt that it didn’t matter who Denver put on him. He was red hot to open the game, at one point hitting ten shots in a row. Then when the defense keyed on him in the second half he started dishing out assists left and right. Finally in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets made a run it was Kobe who put away any hope of a comeback when he scored nineteen in that quarter alone. The Lakers would go on to sweep the Nuggets and an angry Nuggets fan/cartoonist Andy Feinstein started a website in response.
93 points in 24 hours
The pre-Melo era Nuggets were essentially an afterthought for most everyone in the league, in particular the three time champion Lakers. The 2002-2003 team was an especially abysmal affair that would wind up only winning seventeen games all season. Right about the mid-point of the year is when they hit rock bottom and it was at the hands of Kobe. Denver played a national TV game in L.A. on February 11th and Bryant put up forty-two points on just twenty shots. Less than 24 hours later the Lakers and Nuggets met again to finish out a home and home, back to back with this matchup in the friendly confines of Pepsi Center. Like he so often did in his career, Kobe instead made The Can his home, scoring the Lakers first nine points and eighteen of their first twenty-two. He would end up scoring fifty-one points in just thirty-one minutes. It was the fastest anyone had ever scored fifty in a game (the record has since been broken multiple times) and is an astonishing feat given the early 2000s style of basketball.
2009 Western Conference Finals domination
The best team the Nuggets ever fielded against Kobe Bryant was their 2009 Western Conference Finals team that featured Melo and Chauncey Billups. Though Denver was still an underdog to the Lakers, there was a real sense that they could finally overcome the L.A. hurdle. They got out to a good start with a close loss in Game 1 followed by stealing home-court advantage with a road win in Game 2. Back in Denver the Nuggets had a chance to take a commanding lead in the series and broke out to an early lead in Game 3 despite Kobe getting fifteen in the first half. The Nuggets continued to push for a win but the second half became Kobe time. He scored consistently with the Nuggets having no answer. The cherry on top was Bryant’s iconic three in J.R. Smith’s face in the final ninety seconds of the game to silence the crowd on his way to forty-one points for the game and a Lakers win.