SAN ANTONIO -- Somehow Los Anglees Lakers star Kobe Bryant was able to elevate over the outstretched arm of San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard to nail a three pointer late in the fourth quarter on Saturday. The shot was a typical Kobe-esque shot, one that he has hit numerous times in his career. It also tied the game at 96 and was Bryant's fourth 3 of the night. However, Leonard and the Spurs had the last laugh as they pulled away down the stretch to win 106-102 and remain a perfect 28-0 at home.
Bryant finished with 25 points and had Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich comparing him to Michael Jordan. Yet Leonard was the primary defender on Bryant for the majority of the game and forced him into countless tough shot attempts. Bryant needed 28 shots to get his 25 points as Leonard made things quite difficult for him.
Bryant has played against the Spurs 90 times in his career but has only matched up against Leonard, who entered the league in 2011, a handful of times. So when Kobe was asked before the game about the differences between Leonard and former Spur Bruce Bowen -- San Antonio's main defender on him previously -- Bryant couldn't give a definitive answer.
“It’s very difficult to give you a very intelligent … I could give you a BS answer but it’s hard to make that comparison," Bryant said. "I saw Bruce so many times. Kawhi I’ve only played against one-and-a-half times and nothing at a really high level of a matchup. So it’s very hard for me to compare the two. From what I see on TV Bruce uses length a lot more. He was kind of in and out, tapping the arms and trying to break your rhythm, things of that nature. Kawhi tends to use his body a lot more and plays position a lot more. But they both have phenomenal hands.”
Like Bryant, Leonard has improved by leaps and bounds since his rookie season. He already has a Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award and just became an All-Star for the first time this season. Always a great defender, Leonard brought his offensive game to another level this season and is leading the Spurs in scoring. His overall strong play has Leonard in the running for the MVP award and is a big reason why San Antonio has the second-best record in the league.
At 24 years old, Leonard is already one of the best forwards in the league but to ensure that he keeps improving, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told Bryant after the game that he wants the Lakers star to help his star player.
"After the game we talked about Kawhi a little bit," Bryant said about his postgame chat with the Spurs head coach. "[Popovich] wanted me to stay in his ear a little bit and talk to him a little bit. I definitely, definitely, definitely will. I think he has a tremendous amount of potential and he's only going to get better. So if I can help him out in that regard, I most certainly will."
Averaging 20 points while shooting 50.4 percent and 47.1 percent from three, Leonard is already a strong offensive player and while the Spurs have a strong coaching staff and future Hall of Famers in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they don't have someone as dynamic of a scorer as Bryant, who is after all one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA. So Leonard can definitely learn some tips and insights if he talks and works out with Bryant at some point in the future.
Leonard often heads home to California for offseason workouts, so it won't be hard for him to meet up with Kobe. And while Bryant didn't reveal how he would specifically help Leonard, he let it be known that he will always be available for the Spurs forward.
"I'm always around for the guys," said Bryant. "Always."