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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Twin 42 Point Efforts by Kobe and Iverson

The L.A. Lakers had a 49-47 halftime lead over the New York Knicks during Wednesday night's ESPN game despite Kobe Bryant shooting only 5-18 from the field. At halftime it sounded like ESPN's NBA Shootaround crew was ready to send Bryant to the D-League, saying that he was forcing shots and failing to pass the ball. Then in the second half Bryant launched another 18 shots--but this time he sank 10 of them, finishing with 42 points and carrying L.A. to a 97-92 victory. What was the difference between the two halves? Did Kobe change his game? No, simply put, in the second half he was making his shots. All great scorers shoot a large number of shots and they continue to do so even when they are not making them. They take and make shots that other players are unable to attempt or convert. Bryant's high scoring Lakers predecessor Elgin Baylor averaged 30 shots a game from 1960-61 to 1962-63 and shot .430, .428 and .453 from the field during those three seasons. Baylor shot .431 for his career, worse than Bryant's career shooting percentage entering this season (.452). Jerry West, the other Lakers great who routinely put up 40 point games like Baylor and Bryant, shot .474 for his career.

Some people downplay the scoring outputs of players like Bryant, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, suggesting that anyone can score 30 points if he takes 30 shots. Oh, really? Most people could not get off 30 shots against recreational league defense, never mind getting open to shoot 30 times against NBA players, who are arguably the world's best athletes--where else do you find people who average 6-7, 230 and possess a unique combination of speed, power and finesse? One of the most amazing things about Michael Jordan's comeback to the NBA after his year and a half of playing minor league baseball is that he took 28 shots in his very first game. Never mind that he only made 7, the fact that he could get open that frequently after that much time off is stunning. Attempting that many shots requires tremendous energy, because the player must be extremely active--running off of countless screens, filling the lane on the fast break and making one-on-one individual moves. Do Bryant, Iverson and McGrady sometimes force shots? Certainly, as did great scorers in previous eras--but they also hit the clutch shots down the stretch that decide close ball games. The Lakers are 29-12 in Bryant's 41 career 40 point games.

Iverson also scored 42 points on Wednesday, leading the Sixers to a 121-115 win over the hapless Toronto Raptors. Iverson now has 60 career 40 point games, ranking ninth all-time (West is eighth with 66) and first among active players; the rest of the active top five consists of Shaq (48), Bryant, McGrady (36) and Vince Carter (19). The Sixers are 42-18 in Iverson's 40 point games. Iverson is probably the most amazing name on the list. He is listed at 6-0, 165, but anyone who has seen him in person knows that he is no taller than 5-10, so on a nightly basis he is going into the paint against guys who, on average, are 8-9 inches taller and roughly 60 pounds heavier. His toughness, fearlessness and ability to score in the clutch are very reminiscent of Isiah Thomas, whose listed height of 6-1 is also somewhat suspect. Thomas battled against Larry Bird (6-9, 220), Magic Johnson (6-9, 225) and Michael Jordan (6-6, 216) in playoff series and when he played he seemed to be completely oblivious to the tremendous size advantage that they enjoyed. In an interview a few years ago, Thomas noted that he never gave the matter much thought until after he was retired and he was standing together with his fellow legends at some function. He looked at them and thought to himself, "(Expletive deleted), they're big!" In the heat of battle he could not allow himself to consider this, but in retrospect even Thomas was amazed at what he did against men who are such giants literally and figuratively.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:30 AM


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