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Bryant is no longer much of a high flyer -- he and Allen were in the same slam dunk contest as rookies way back in 1997. Yet despite nagging injuries that keep him off the practice floor, his overall level of play has never been higher.
He averaged 33.7 points in the Western Conference finals, third-best playoff series of his career, and shot 52 percent from the field. He also averaged 7.2 rebounds and 8.3 assists, perhaps the most magnificent of his 39 career postseason series.
"Now he's capable of making the play that makes the play. That's a big distinction," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "In hockey we still give them an assist, but in basketball we don't. That's a big distinction as to making the team react to what he's doing so he can create an offensive opportunity for somebody else."
The regular-season games are tougher for the old guys, who realize the only ones that really matter are played in the spring. The Celtics never could keep their intensity up in the second half of this season, and the Lakers' veterans know their minds will wander in the winter as well.
"As a younger player I tried to just learn from the older guys," Bryant said. "I understood that really it's a body of work at the end of the day that you're going to be measured by. It's not by a game on a Tuesday night in February or March or whatever."
The summer will be about the young stars, when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade hit the free agent market. Meanwhile, the 30-somethings in Boston and Los Angeles will be working toward making another June matchup possible.
For now, the NBA finals still belong to the old guys.
"In July, August and September, it's really easy to take a step back and enjoy the family even more, take more vacations, have a couple more glasses of wine, whatever you like to do to relax," Fisher said. "But I really take a lot of pride in keeping my feet to the fire in the offseason and setting the foundation and the base for being able to play all 82 games and basically do whatever my team needs me to do in order for us to win."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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