The book officially closed on my teenage years earlier this week. When Tracy McGrady announced he was retiring from the NBA after 16 seasons, a part of me died with it. He was possibly the smoothest player of this generation, and he made scoring 40 look easier than pumping gas. From the sneakers to the lobs off the glass to the way he dominated individually in the playoffs and yet was still criticized all the same, McGrady was unique.
His rise also directly coincided with Kobe Bryant‘s ascension in Los Angeles. They probably would’ve developed a rivalry regardless of the circumstances, but between the adidas connection, their longstanding friendly relationship, both owning something the other craved (McGrady owned control of a team; Kobe owned rings) and the fact that both were Generation X guards that had incredibly similar games, skill-sets and were comparable sizes, it made for some amazing matchups.
There were often comparisons, reaching a pinnacle in 2002-03 when the two looked like — by far — the best perimeter players in the world. As Ralph Wiley once described, you had Kobe, “young Luke with the Force, pedigreed up the wazoo” and T-Mac, “as if someone grafted Penny Hardaway with a fire-breathing dragon.”
The two players faced off against each other 21 times during their careers, with Bryant winning 14 of them. McGrady would drop 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists during those contests while Bryant pumped in 26.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Both contributed to a bundle of nasty duels over the years, even if T-Mac denies they ever played one-on-one. Here are their 10 best matchups.
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10. HOUSTON WINS 22nd STRAIGHT GAME
This wasn’t so much a duel as it was history. Bryant smothered McGrady all over the floor, holding him to 11 points… and yet Kobe was actually worse. Houston hounded him into a 11-for-33 shooting night, one of his worst games of the season. The Rockets got key contributions from the “Kobe Stopper,” Shane Battier, and even without Yao Ming, they won their 22nd straight game. I’m not sure what was crazier: that winning streak or Rafer Alston pouring in eight bombs and 31 points off the bench.
9. TMAC GETS THE W; KB GETS THE TRIPLE-DOUBLE
Even as Kobe went for 19 points, 10 boards and 10 dimes (while being hounded into 4-for-19 shooting), McGrady scored a game-high 27 and led Houston to an easy win with some incredibly difficult shots. At this point, the Lakers had just lost their 13th in 14 games and were officially out of playoff contention. Houston would make the playoffs, go up 2-0 on Dallas, and then blow the series even as McGrady averaged nearly 31 points a game.