The Los Angeles Lakers played one of their best all-around games of the season Monday night to defeat the Phoenix Suns, 128-107, in game one of the Western Conference Finals. Kobe Bryant, who hit his stride during the Utah Jazz series, looked like he hadn't missed a beat as he torched the Suns for 40 points on 23 shots.
There were questions about Kobe's health going into the series, particularly after it was revealed that he had a significant amount of fluid drained from his right knee prior to the series opener with the Suns.
Those questions were answered early as Kobe had that "I'm going to rip your heart out" look on his face all game long, and played with a renewed sense of vigor.
Now, however, the question becomes: How long can Kobe keep this up?
I heard Chris Webber (who had his fair share of knee injuries) on the radio yesterday describing what it's like to have fluid drained. He said that it basically takes away all the swelling and soreness, so you feel great the next couple of days.
The problem is, Webber said, that the fluid inevitably returns until you fix what is really wrong with the knee. That is what the Lakers need to worry about.
In addition to the drainage, Kobe had 6 days off from basketball before last night. He didn't even practice. No wonder he came out with such tremendous energy.
Now, in the Conference Finals against a team that loves to push the tempo, you have to ask yourself whether Kobe will be able to hold up. Other than the three days of rest between games two and three, the Lakers play every other day this series. You have to think that the schedule will truly test the durability of Kobe's knee.
That being said, Kobe's a smart guy. I'm sure he knows that his knee is iffy, so he came out with a purpose Monday night. He simply took the opportunity, while feeling strong, to send a message to the Suns that this is the same Kobe Bryant that they faced a few years ago.
But this isn't the same Lakers team, and Kobe knows that as well. In the process of going for 40, Kobe elevated the energy level and performance of the rest of the team, particularly Lamar Odom (19 points, 19 rebounds).
Even if Kobe can't stay at the level of game one, he successfully got his teammates going so that when he has to take plays off, somebody will be there to pick him up.
So, will Kobe be able to keep up the pace of game one? Probably not.
But it probably won't matter.