But I'll give Wade a pass this time because I doubt the American squad would have maintained its mostly single-digit lead without his opportunistic defense and timely offensive sparks.
However, I can't be so forgiving with Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba has long been my favorite player and his performance proved once again why he's possibly the most clutch player of his generation. But did you notice how close Kobe came to squandering his team's slender lead in the fourth quarter?
At the start of that fourth quarter the U.S. led by a measly nine points. And somehow Kobe felt that the best strategy to build on that lead was for him to bomb away from three-point range. Granted, ball movement was horrible at that point with LeBron in foul trouble and Spain drifting into a zone defense. But there was Kobe, taking those tough jumpers that us Lakers fans are all too familiar with.
I know, I know, there's always the argument that somebody has to take those shots and Kobe was the only player with the requisite frosty blood. I'll buy that reasoning in the regular season, but not on this squad of All-World talent.
As the minutes ticked away, Kobe made the situation worse by gambling for steals on defense and clearing his man a straight path to the rim. Doug Collins called him out on one play that resulted in a dunk over Dwight Howard but I noticed many, many instances of halfhearted D where Kobe failed to even lift his hand in a shooter's face. Where was that "lockdown defender" mentality that Kobe had promised to his U.S. teammates?
Of course, the U.S. did maintain its lead and Kobe scored or assisted on several late possessions to ensure the victory. But what if Kobe had stayed within the gameplan? If he had looked to penetrate and kick out on offense and stayed in front of his man on defense, then the U.S. might not have needed to hold its collective breath over the final few minutes.
And speaking as a fan, I would have been perfectly happy with that outcome.