Two games in a row Kobe Bryant has 14 assists. It’s the common thread for the Lakers on their newly minted 2-game winning streak.
The Lakers finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday with a 105-96 win. Sure, Kobe was taking the big shots down the stretch as any scorer should, but he made another concerted effort to include his teammates in the win. He finished with 21 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds, just shy of a triple double.
I’ve long wondered whether the Lakers’ problems were something you could pin on the Black Mamba as well. He took too many shots for my liking and forced too many plays. But people continually complained about Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, as if they encompass the play of the entire team.
In the last two games, this Black Mamba has been getting Steve Nash going, he’s dropping the ball off for his starved big men Dwight and Pau. He’s dishing back to Chris Duhon and finding the cutting Earl Clark. He’s involving everyone.
The Lakers look good with Kobe dishing the ball. And he’s still Kobe, he’s still a threat.
I don’t want to predict what the Lakers will do going forward, but I think they should really look at what he’s done in these two past game and give him a big hint. Lord knows the Lakers organization can’t tell him what to do.
Last night’s Lakers-Celtics game, a 92-86 win for the Lakers, was much more than a dog-and-pony show for Ray Allen‘s super-human 3-point shooting capabilities.
(Allen connected on 3-of-8 threes to surpass Reggie Miller for the all-time lead in 3-pointers made with 2,562.)
Allen, without question, was brilliant and gracious. I’ve followed him since his time with the Milwaukee Bucks and I can honestly say there isn’t a more deserving guy to hold this record than him.
But for the game, and the rivalry, there’s a lot to draw upon from last night’s contest. It was, in the best way I know how to describe it, an “I told you so” game. Let me explain.
1.) Only 9 healthy — Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Semih Erden, Marquis Daniels and, for shits and giggles, Delonte West didn’t play last night for Eastern Conference’s best team. Is it any wonder why they lost? Erden, the 7-foot Turk who has been playing aggressive and strong in his reserve role, was out with an adductor strain leaving the Celtics thin in their greatest asset — the frontcourt — after notable injuries to Shaq and Jermaine. The whole reason the Celtics picked up Erden and the O’Neals was to compete with the Lakers in the paint. Last night’s loss becomes painfully obvious when the bigs to back up Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins are no longer available and, like last night, get in foul trouble.
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There are a couple of things wrong with trading Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony to the Los Angeles Lakers. The first of which is that he’s a ball heavy player — he’s not successful without taking 15 to 20 shots a game. Right now, he’s averaging 19.04 field goal attempts per game. The Lakers, for the last 6 1/2 years, have been Kobe Bryant’s team. He eats up 19.2 shots per game. Enough said.
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At the end of the day, the Los Angeles Lakers won an NBA title despite Kobe Bryant. To shoot 6-of-24 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals is not legendary.
Add to the fact that Black Mamba had horrible shooting games in 4 and 5, and I’m hard pressed to think he deserves to be the NBA Finals MVP. I’ll add my name to the chorus of critics who believe that Pau Gasol should’ve been honored with Bill Russell’s award. Is it so much to ask that the guy with MVP credentials — and not the MVP reputation — stand at the front of the podium for these things?
Case in point: If the Celtics had won, Paul Pierce would’ve more than likely won the Finals MVP. Why? Because he carries the reputation around the league as the Truth, and although his scoring was good in spurts (a la Kobe), he was not the determining factor in any of the games that the Celtics won. On name recognition alone, he was more valuable to viewers and fans of the game. But not for the Celtics.
I think so. So let’s give love to the Spaniard, who is deserving of an award he can now only look at whenever he goes over Kobe’s house.
I couldn’t be more disappointed with the performance of the Lakers on the road. They were supposed to win at least one game in Phoenix. It was pre-determined. Didn’t they get the memo?
All the while, the flow of the game was making it real easy to see that there was a number of problems that L.A. couldn’t overcome — that Kobe Bryant’s 38 points couldn’t overcome. The Suns’ zone defense (which received way more hype than it ever deserved) shackled big plays in the post that Pau Gasol had seen in the first two games. He still managed a tough 15 points. Amare Stoudemire continued his ass-kicking reign of fire in Game 4, dropping 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds in only 31 minutes on the court. And then, the Suns bench went all Game 3 San Antonio on the Lake Show, with Channing Frye remembering how to put the ball in the cup, Goran Dragic putting moves on Derek Fisher, and Jared Dudley firing from long distance. And with Leonardo Barbosa chipping in 14 points, the Suns’ starters didn’t see much playing time in the fourth, keeping a steady lead of six to eight points until the waning moments when the all-stars were needed again.
The Suns bench outscored the Lakers bench, 54-20. Most notably, Shannon Brown had 2 points and Jordan Farmar had 3. Lamar Odom finished with 15 in 35 minutes.
But what’s worse than the Lakers bench getting outplayed by the Suns’, is that the Lakers seem to be confused about how to attack the Suns’ zone. For one of the few games in Fisher’s life in a Laker uniform, he was constantly pushing the point and running the set offense. It was weird to see that because he’s not the type to cut and break down a defense in those situations. You have to be able to split defenders and he hasn’t been able to do that well for some time. In fact, that’s what Kobe’s best at (hence, 38 points). It seemed more like a job for the young guys, Farmar and Brown, to do while allowing Kobe to run things. Instead, we saw plenty of time from Fish and Ron Artest on the wings with Kobe, watching Black Mamba go to work. This is not to say it’s the two are terrible at these things, it’s just not their strongest trait. And in the end, when going up against a zone, you’ve got to be ready to fire up an open three at a moment’s notice. Fish doesn’t have that problem, but right now Artest does.
So yeah, I’m a little surprised by the outcome of the game. I would’ve thought that Phil Jackson would’ve made the necessary adjustments — whether by personnel or strategy — to get the job done. Game 3 was a given for the Suns, which were playing off two shots of emotion and adrenaline. Game 4 was supposed to return to the chess match. So far, Alvin Gentry has outcoached the Zen Master. Who would’ve thunk it?
We’ve basically whittled down the contenders to five teams. (It should be four right now, but I digress…)
After watching Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns dismantle the San Antonio Spurs and their iron clamp defense, I would say that I’m warming to the idea that they have a shot at the title. But watching Black Mamba and the Lakers’ triple towers makes me think otherwise. Plus, Superman over in Orlando is playing out of his mind — and staying out of foul trouble — while King James continues to befuddle me with his night and day performances. Lastly, when did it become Rajon Rondo’s team? (Methinks some time in February.)
So, can you help a brother out? Which team do you think is going all the way?
And yet, as he stood on that podium accepting his Finals MVP trophy and shepherding in another year of Lakers hate, the Staples marketing campaign was probably ringing in his head.
“That was easy.”
He had it coming and he knew it. But this one can very well change the way we think of No. 24 forever — and the Orlando Magic.
You see, championships change people. Championship No. 4 for Bryant, and No. 10 for his Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, are the signifying moments of their careers. Where before they were guaranteed a bust in Naismith Memorial, today we can now begin to argue which rung these guys land on in the ladder of greatness.
For the Magic, we can begin to argue who gave up first and when. Last night’s performance, on their own court nonetheless, was just sad to see. Half the guys on the team looked defeated before the third quarter started.
What did Stan Van Gundy say to them? Not much apparently, because he was noticeably voiceless for the last 16 minutes of the game.
At first, I remarked to myself and others that they looked apathetic. And then, just pathetic. At one point, the puns were coming endlessly. But after awhile, as you really got to see that the spirit of the team was on ice, the only feeling I could comprehend was pity. They simply weren’t ready for a team chock-filled with veterans and seething with anger from defeat one year prior. They had walked into a massacre and didn’t have the sense of mind to dress the part. Whatever mojo the team carried from its Game 3 win was in the far distant past.
Dwight Howard was rendered useless because of foul trouble. And as he was soundly outplayed by Pau Gasol, everybody in the building was looking for somebody to step up in his place. Rashard Lewis dropped a nominal 18 points, getting some garbage time 3-pointers in the fourth after the game had been decided. Hedo Turkoglu was just a warm body on the court, finishing with 12.
Rafer Alston, who had inspired the club with his tenacious scoring ability throughout the playoffs, gave the greatest example of the Magic’s futility. Sensing urgency in the third quarter that his team was likely not in the game mentally, Alston dribble faked and sliced to the basket looking for a quick deuce to get some inside game going for an outside game team. He managed to squirm around the 7-foot Gasol to get an easy layup opportunity. Except he didn’t make it. He was frustrated. The Magic didn’t score on that possession and Alston didn’t recover from the erred play.
For the rest of the game, we got to watch the guys in blue put on pouty faces as if we were supposed to feel sorry for them.
Pity is worse than sorry. They don’t deserve sorry.
There is a saving grace here for Orlando: Another year makes them stronger. These guys were obviously outplayed, outhustled and outbanged. The Lakers took it to them and it started up top with Gasol going at Howard, and then No. 24 going at everyone. You can expect the Magic to return with a vengeance and hopefully more warm bodies next year.
As for Bryant, the assassin, you could already see how the championship had affected him. In fact, it was the most obvious of observations. As the cameras cut away and Bryant exited to celebrate with his family, friends and teammates, there was a huge grin on his face. This after not smiling for weeks and unveiling a new scowl just for the series.
You see, people do change.
Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Union.