The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 120-108 on Thursday night rather easily. The game was close for part of the first half, but Cleveland pulled away in the second half and won easily. Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 26 points to go along with nine assists and Channing Frye, in his first start as Cavalier, scored 21 points. The win kept the Cavs two games up on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference and also put the Cavs at 2-0 halfway through their West Coast road trip.
The result of the game, though, was the game's subplot. The game's main storyline was the final showdown between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. The two are the defining stars of their respective eras and two players who have defined the league for almost two decades. Their careers never properly overlapped - they famously have never played against one another in the Finals - but this was a special game, one we'll properly revisit in the future. Now, and always, the NBA is defined by stars and LeBron and Kobe are two of the biggest, and best, ever.
It also played out as well as one could have hoped. Bryant, at this point, is a shell of his former self and came into Thursday's game dealing with a shoulder injury that had kept him out of four of the Lakers' last six games. He very well could have played badly, missed a ton of shots and made his last contest with LeBron forgettable. These Lakers are very bad and Kobe's last season will end with far away from the playoffs. It didn't help either that these Lakers are very bad the Cavs were expected to roll. This could have been a blowout where LeBron and Kobe both sat for most of the fourth quarter
But it wasn't - it was fun and engaging from the opening tip. Kobe, for much of the game, was defended by LeBron and went right him over and over. He had success too. Look at here at how Kobe got a clean look with a slick up-and-under move with LeBron defending him closely:
This was how the duel between these two largely unfolded. On one end, LeBron would blow by Kobe or catch him napping on defense and score an easy two. On the other end, with LeBron up in his grill but not quite hounding him fully, Kobe made a number of vintage classic contested Kobe jumpers. At the end, LeBron finished with 24 points, Kobe finished with 26 points and the two embraced by the scorer's table after the type of matchup we wanted to see between two of the NBA's all-time defining stars in their last ever showdown. It was, perhaps, the type of game Kobe should have had at this year's All-Star game against a number of the NBA's elite players but didn't.
Someday soon - not soon, but sometime within the next decade - this day will come for LeBron. He'll be facing Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis or current another star who will outlast LeBron. At that point, LeBron will be in Kobe's position, the aging star playing against the guys he went up against while he was at, or near, the peak of his powers. At some point, maybe LeBron will blow by Curry, Davis or someone else and rattle the rim with a thunderous dunk one last time.
Even if the torch has already been passed, it'll be a moment to watch because we watch stars and want to see them go against one another one last time. The rest will be just a subplot.