Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have gone out of their way to point out that there's no rivalry between the two. Yet their last matchup had the extra excitement that only battles between greats have, whether there's animosity or not.
The two put on a show, with James finishing the night with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists, while an energized Bryant had 26 points in 16 shots and turned back the clock for some truly memorable moments.
Kobe, the wily veteran for most of their time competing against each other, dug deep into his bag of tricks for this special occasion and showed that he can still score on anyone when he's feeling it.
James, arguably the best athlete the league has ever seen, had a few thunderous dunks, none more exciting that a left-handed alley-oop off a terrible off-the-backboard pass that forced him to adjust in mid-air.
For one last night we got to see the entire repertoire, with James dishing dimes and going coast to coast with ease and Bryant elevating over defenders for gorgeous fadeaways.
It was the 22nd time the two went head-to-head and James' 16th win over Bryant. Their individual numbers favor LeBron slightly, as he both played more minutes and produced at a higher level. Yet Bryant still managed to post averages against James-led teams that are in tune with his career's, even though he entered the league eight years before The King.
There were no memorable playoff battles, as the two played in different conferences for their entire careers and never met in the finals, but there were some classic matches. Bryant had 38 against the 2006 Cavaliers while James dropped 41 on the Lakers in 2008. Rivalry or not, the two have brought up the best out of each other and that wasn't different on Thursday.
The league will miss Bryant when he's gone next season. Among the biggest reasons why is that there will be no more matchups between him and James to look forward to. Fortunately the Black Mamba gave us one last great performance against LeBron to treasure before heading into retirement.
* * *
One Last Time: Kobe, LeBron face off in their final matchup
Be sure to subscribe to SB Nation's YouTube channel for highlight videos, features, analysis and more