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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kobe Wishes the Clippers a Happy Thanksgiving with his First 40 Point Game of the Season

There was a lot of preseason talk that the Clippers are L.A.'s best team but on Tuesday night the Lakers found a formula to silence such speculation: a lot of Kobe Bryant early plus a lot of Kobe Bryant late. Add that up and it equaled Bryant's first 40 point game of the season and a 105-101 Lakers win that vaulted them into first place in the Pacific Division. Bryant shot 12-23 from the field and 15-18 from the free throw line and had five rebounds, five assists, three steals and just one turnover. How close is he to being 100% in the wake of his offseason knee surgery? Pretty close, at least according to Bryant, who said after the game, "I'm back. I feel great." Lamar Odom had 18 points and six rebounds but shot just 6-18 from the field; Bryant's teammates made just 21 of their 66 field goal attempts. Elton Brand and Corey Maggette led the Clippers with 20 points each. Brand also had a game-high 15 rebounds. NBA TV broadcast the game, using the feed from the Lakers television network; Joel Meyers and Stu Lantz handled the call.

Odom opened the scoring in the first quarter with a drive past Chris Kaman, but most of the first quarter was the Kobe Bryant show. His first basket was a turnaround jumper over Quinton Ross, which he banked in while drawing a foul; the three point play put the Lakers ahead 7-2. Bryant hit his first three shots and the Lakers led 11-4. Andrew Bynum played good defense against Brand in the early going but went to the bench at the 8:28 mark after committing his second foul. Brand promptly scored seven points in the next 1:14 and the Clippers went ahead 15-11. Bryant pumped in 20 points in the first 12 minutes and the Lakers led 27-25 at the end of the first quarter. "Not good," said Lantz at that point, explaining that while fans enjoy seeing Bryant score a lot that the lack of balance is not good for the team. There is some validity to that way of thinking; on the other hand, Bryant shot a high percentage, scored most of his points in the paint and got to the free throw line. He exploited opportunities that the defense gave him as opposed to forcing up shots.

The Lakers gradually pulled away in the second quarter and took their biggest lead to that point when Luke Walton's three pointer put them up 38-29 with 7:29 remaining. Walton ranks among the NBA's three point field goal percentage leaders so far, which helps open driving lanes for Bryant and Odom. A few moments later, the Lakers' lead crawled to nine when Bryant scored an improbable reverse layup and made his free throw to complete the three point play.
"The inventor!" Lantz exclaimed when replays of Bryant's shot were shown--but before he had a chance to patent any more shots he picked up his third foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the half.

Lantz, who played for the Lakers in the 1970s, made some interesting observations throughout the game. At one point, he complimented Brand for his strong hands but said that no one's mitts compare to Elgin Baylor's: "Once Elgin got the ball in his hands, just forget it. You'd need a sledgehammer to get it out," recalled Lantz. At the 1:13 mark, Odom picked up his third foul literally seconds after Lantz wondered aloud if Lakers Coach Phil Jackson should take Odom out of the game to prevent just that from happening. "Sometimes you gamble and lose," Lantz commented.
The Clippers trimmed the margin to 51-48 by halftime. "They didn't finish the half the way that Phil Jackson would have liked, obviously, and I'm sure that he'll have some nice words of wisdom for them at halftime," Lantz said.

Brand had 14 points and seven rebounds at halftime. Bryant led the Lakers with 23 points, Kwame Brown contributed seven points and eight rebounds and Odom managed just four points, two rebounds and two assists. Hall of Famer and NBA TV analyst Gail Goodrich offered this halftime assessment of Bryant's play:
"He is letting the game come to him and not forcing it."

Odom opened the third quarter like he was determined to put his sluggish first half behind him, making a three pointer on the Lakers' first possession. A couple minutes later he drove to the hoop, got his shot blocked but recovered the ball and made a layup. The Lakers found their three point stroke in the third quarter, making all five of their attempts from downtown. Meanwhile, Sam Cassell, who shot just 2-8 from the field in the first half, made his first five shots of the third quarter and scored 11 points in a five minute stretch, keeping the Clippers within striking distance at 66-63. "Sam can play forever because he plays pretty close to the ground. His risk for injury is not as high as that of other players who just attack the rim," noted Lantz.

Bryant had three assists in the first five minutes of the third quarter but he didn't forget how to score. "He's been relentless in not settling for jumpers," Meyers exclaimed after Bryant drove to the hoop and drew Ross' fourth foul at the 3:25 mark. Bryant gave a warm greeting to former teammate Rick Fox, who was seated at courtside, before making both free throws to put the Lakers up 77-66. He already had 30 points. Odom scored 10 points in the third quarter and the Lakers led 83-74 going into the fourth quarter.

From time to time you will hear people suggest that the Lakers offense flows more smoothly when Bryant is not in the game. I have one question for these people: "Have you ever actually watched the Lakers play?" Jackson's normal rotation involves resting Bryant at the start of the fourth quarter so that Bryant will be fresh for the stretch run. With Bryant on the bench, Shaun Livingston scored seven quick points and the Clippers tied the game at 83. It took the Lakers three quarters to build a nine point lead and 3:16 to lose it while Bryant sat out.

Of course, Jackson is not the type of coach who rants and raves or calls timeouts. His reaction to the blown lead? He was so concerned that he was sitting on the bench laughing after one of the Lakers' miscues. The Lakers did not score a point in the fourth quarter until Bryant came back in the game and tied the score at 85 by making two free throws at the 5:38 mark. The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes. After Bryant's fadeaway jumper pulled the Lakers to within 89-88 at the 4:38 mark, Lantz said, "He's 80%. I wouldn't want to see him when he's fully recovered." Bryant scored his 37th point when he drove coast to coast, faked Livingston out of his shorts and sank a teardrop that gave the Lakers a 94-91 advantage. Bryant capped off a 10 point fourth quarter by making a jumper and splitting a pair of free throws in the last minute of the game.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:09 AM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Wednesday, November 22, 2006 8:42:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Bryant is playing very smoothly right now. Hes not jacking up a lot of shots, forcing offensive fouls, and he is making the right pass. I dont know how long he is going to play like this but I like his maturity.

 
At Wednesday, November 22, 2006 2:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I see no reason to believe that Kobe will stop playing this way. He was the leading playmaker on three championship teams, so it's not like he just learned how to pass the ball.

When the Lakers' offense ends up with Kobe "forcing" shots this is usually at least as much his teammates' fault as his: they stand around, don't get open and then pass up open shots when they get the ball. Odom does not have the mindset to be a dominant player night in and night out, so that responsibility inevitably falls to Kobe.

This Lakers team has a chance to be really good.

 
At Wednesday, November 22, 2006 3:22:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

He also averaged 23,29 and 25 in those years. He also didnt always make the right pass on those teams. You say they have a chance to be really good? Whats really good?
The love affair continues. 6 months of this....I cant take it David.

 
At Thursday, November 23, 2006 1:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nobody "always" makes the right pass; check out Magic and Isiah's turnover totals. My point is that when the Lakers do better than most people expected this year, rather than admit that Kobe has been a championship level player for several years we will read stories of how Kobe has "reinvented" himself. It's like what happened with Bill Belichick--instead of his critics admitting that they were wrong, they simply say that he "changed." Of course he changed--we all grow and develop, over time, if we have any sense--but he didn't suddenly learn how to coach when he landed in New England. He had turned the Browns around and had them in the playoffs in '94--the last time the Browns won a playoff game. Then Modell made his announcement and the team fell apart in '95.

I defined "really good" in my Western Conference Preview: fourth seed in the West, which means home court advantage in the first round. I didn't assign a win total in the preview, but to get the fourth seed the Lakers would likely have to win at least 50 games. I think that most other prognosticators picked the Lakers to finish worse than that.

Last year I picked the Lakers to win at least 45 games and make the playoffs; they won 45 on the button and pushed the Suns to seven games. I don't think that too many others had the Lakers down for 45 wins last year. ESPN's Greg Anthony is the only person I can recall off the top of my head who insisted that the Lakers would be better than most people thought--and Legler and Steven A. ripped him constantly about that.

 
At Thursday, November 23, 2006 5:24:00 AM, Anonymous ytb said...

lakers are playing better together now because all the players are moving without the basketball, regardless of who has the basketball. why does everyone have to blame kobe for the lakers previous lack of movement? granted i agree that he jacked up more wild shots before than he does now, but he also makes a lot of those, as evidenced by those crazy reverses.

also i dont get why people like gail goodrich keep saying he's not forcing it. when lakers win, people say kobe's a team player and not forcing shots, and when they lose, people say kobe held on to the ball too much and doesnt trust his teammates. he's always been a team player but just never had the talent playing around him. i think it's almost as fashionable to hate on kobe bryant as it is to dis kevin federline.

p.s. nice blog.

 
At Friday, November 24, 2006 2:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

YTB:

I agree with everything that you wrote about Kobe. As I said before, he was the primary playmaker on three championship teams, so he long ago proved that he can and will share the ball. He does indeed get blamed for breakdowns that in reality are caused by his teammates' lack of movement/aggressiveness.

 
At Saturday, November 25, 2006 4:05:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Bryant will never win another ring. He could have like 5 or 6 with Shaquille. At that point he would be 30 or 31 and then he could do it by himself. He is a wonderful basketball player. But you guys act like he does nothing wrong.

David, Im not checking Isiah and Magic's turnover numbers. I know they were a lot; they handled the ball more than Bryant. But ytb he has not always been a team player.

 
At Monday, November 27, 2006 6:42:00 AM, Anonymous ytb said...

illest,

kobe took the western conference champs last year to 7 games with only lamar and a bunch of nobodys almost. who is to say that this assembled team won't be in contention for titles in the near future? after shaq and kobe signed in 1996, it took lakers 3 (or 4, i forgot) years to win it all. if jordan can do it with bill wennington as center, kobe can do it with bynum/brown.

 
At Monday, November 27, 2006 6:43:00 AM, Anonymous ytb said...

sorry i meant to type western conference finalists... its kind of late in LA.

 
At Wednesday, April 04, 2007 3:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe bryant is the best perimeter player in the game and undoubtedly the most skillfull player in the game. It is unfortunate that we have to listen to the likes of skip (cold pizza), tim legler, woody paige, and countless other haters of KB24, always find fault in his game. I would like to add this bit of insite to the discussion. MJ, Shaq, Nash, Magic, Bird all had really good teams around them in order for them to when championships. It is easy for these great talents to be so successful because of the really good talent around them......Bird had no atheleticsm, no defense and ability to penetrate and draw fouls- he was a great shooter who knew how to play the game.......MJ had each season while he was successful great role players (specialist if you will) and pippen who is a top 50 player....also imagine if you will what kobe could do offensively if he didnt have to expend so much energy guarding the best offensive player on the other team.....that job was assigned to the likes of pippen and ron harper.......i would like to see what steve nash and dirk would do if they changed places with kobe.....im quite sure that the suns and mav would be a lot better off (defensively and offensely).......excuse the randomness of my post Im in class right now and a little rushed for time.....

 
At Wednesday, April 04, 2007 4:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with most of what you said and have expressed similar sentiments in various posts here. Kobe's ability to guard multiple positions (pg, sg, sf) does indeed set him apart from Nash and Dirk, but I would say that MJ was also an excellent defender. He did have Pip and later Harper as well but MJ won Defensive Player of the Year in '88 and was always on the All-Defensive Team.

 

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