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I’ve been critical of Kobe Bryant in the past, but I’m also a “credit where credit is due” person and simply put, Kobe Bryant was nothing shy of brilliant in Game 1 against the Orlando Magic. His full offensive repertoire was on display as he dazzled the Staples Center crowd with a bevvy of turnaround jump shots and an all-around sense of “I can’t be stopped” oozing out. Bryant got off to a normal start in the first quarter, but as the Magic were riding high on the return of Jameer Nelson in the second quarter to the tune of a five point lead, Kobe returned and dropped 12 second quarter points on 6-9 shooting.

The Lakers followed his lead to a 10-point halftime lead. Unfortunately for Orlando, Kobe’s third quarter started much like the second one ended with Kobe again scoring in double digits. By then, the route was on. Bryant finished the game two assists and rebounds shy of triple-double as his most-dominant performance carried the Lakers to 1-0 lead.

In the embedded press conference, Kobe was all business, as he made his desire for winning the championship very well known, saying he just wants it “so bad,” something his almost-transcendent performance indicates. Not only that, but this is the kind of heart Bryant has no problem wearing on his sleeve, on or off the court.

So we have a Far Beyond Driven Kobe doing work in the Finals. What does this mean for the Magic? First off, while Kobe was indeed stellar in the second quarter (and the third), the Magic didn’t play horrible defense against him, especially Mickael Pietrus. It may be time, however, for Courtney Lee and Pietrus to switch places in the rotation because the Western Kentucky alum (Hilltoppers represent) cannot guard Bryant.

Oh, he tried, but the physical mismatch just doesn’t work in his favor.

Nevertheless, Kobe shot the ball 34 times and I think the Magic can live with that in the upcoming games — provided they defend folks like Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom better. As for Pietrus (and his shoes), he just needs to keep playing the kind of defense he did last night and not get discouraged. Kobe hit some absolutely amazing shots with Pietrus right there in his face.

Not much you can do about that.

Going forward, who knows how this series will turn out — more on this in another post — but for today, it’s Kobe’s world. Like it or not, we’re all just observers.