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Saying goodbye to the Houston Rockets’ toughest opponent: Kobe Bryant

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shakes hands with James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets after the game on April 10, 2016 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shakes hands with James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets after the game on April 10, 2016 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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As the Houston Rockets took the floor on Sunday afternoon, the basketball world received tragic news regarding one of the all-time greats.

Prior to the Houston Rockets‘ game on Sunday, we all mourned as we received tragic news regarding former Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant is among those dead in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, a source confirms to ESPN.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 26, 2020

Bryant was 41 years old and will be forever remembered as one of the greatest players of all-time. Any Houston Rockets fan should remember how unstoppable he was against the Rockets, as he went 33-20 from the 1997-98 season, which was his first All-Star season, through the 2012-13 season, which was his last complete season prior to being hampered by injuries.

Counting the regular season numbers only, Kobe scored 30 points in eleven different games, had 40+ points against the Rockets on five different occasions, and had 50 points on three different occasions during that span. This included a 45-point game during the 2000-01 season in which the Black Mamba shot an incredible 76.9 percent from the field on just 26 field-goal attempts, in addition to a 52-point performance during the 2002-03 season in which the five-time NBA champion had 52 points on 50 percent from the field

As if this weren’t lethal enough, Kobe also had a 43-point performance in the 2005-06 season in which he had a field-goal percentage of 59.4 percent, in addition to a 41-point performance during the 2009-10 season, in which he made 50 percent of his shots.

All in all, Kobe averaged 27.9 points against the Houston Rockets during those 16 years, which is further proof of how the Rockets simply couldn’t stop him. Kobe had shooting splits of 50 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range during that timeframe.

Even if you were to include just the last two seasons of his career, when he was past his prime, he still averaged 22.5 points against the Rockets. This is just as impressive, as he was battling injuries at this stage of his career, but the Rockets never had an answer for the Black Mamba. During Kobe’s last game against the Rockets, he scored 35 points on 45.5 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from 3-point range, which is fitting considering how he’s the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history.

Postseason career against the Rockets

Kobe’s Lakers faced off against the Rockets three times in the postseason, and the Rockets never won a single series. On top of that, Kobe’s Lakers ended the Rockets’ season in three of the Rockets six trips, ranging from the 1998-99 season through the 2008-09 season.

Kobe went 11-5 against the Houston Rockets in the playoffs, and posted averages of 24 points per game on 42.3 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from 3-point range.

During the Rockets’ 1999 postseason matchup against the Lakers, Kobe averaged 18.3 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists as the Rockets were eliminated within four games. This eventually led to Kobe’s first championship.

The Rockets were also defeated by Kobe’s Lakers during the 2004 playoff matchup between the two teams, as he was the leading scorer yet again and averaged 24.4 points per game, en route to leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals.

Kobe constantly proved to be too much for the Rockets and was the leading scorer during the 2009 postseason series, as he averaged 27 points per game and proved to be too much for Shane Battier, who was an elite defender in the league. Following Kobe’s passing, Battier stated that Kobe pushed him more than anyone else, as he had constant battles with Kobe.

Influences on current Rockets players

According to Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic, Kobe first noticed James Harden‘s greatness before he ever became a member of the Houston Rockets.

Kobe told Tyson Chandler after a pickup game in 2011: “He’s (James Harden) going to be the next one after me.” #Rockets

— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) September 27, 2019

Kobe also was one of the first all-time greats to publicly point out that the Rockets were going to need more than Harden’s prolific scoring in order to win an NBA title.

Kobe Bryant believes James Harden and the Rockets won't win a championship with the style of play we're seeing on his scoring tear. (via @Rachel__Nichols) pic.twitter.com/RQvdHPvpJw

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 4, 2019

On top of that, while speaking on the Hollywood Reporter’s Award Chatter podcast, Kobe chose Houston Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook as the player who most reminds him of himself in today’s league. Kobe also defended Westbrook against critics who claim that he chases stats and cares more about numbers than wins.

In addition, Kobe also defended Westbrook when he was facing criticism about the amount of shots he took during his MVP season in which he led the league in scoring.

#StopIt pic.twitter.com/pPRO8BnF4P

— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 13, 2015

Perhaps one of the more overlooked traits about Kobe as a person was his ability to uplift others, such as Rockets 3-point specialist Ben McLemore. Kobe provided encouragement to McLemore at a point when he nearly found himself out of the league by telling him to stay ready because he was going to get another opportunity in the NBA. McLemore took Kobe’s advice and ran with it, as he’s currently averaging 9.9 points per game, which is the second-most of his career, along with 36.9 percent from 3-point range, which is his third-highest 3-point percentage.

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Regardless of whether you’re a basketball fan or not, the world lost an amazing individual on Sunday afternoon with the passing of Kobe. We will all certainly miss Kobe, and there will never be another like him. Rest in peace to Mamba, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and the other passengers who were travelling on the helicopter with them.

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