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Friday, December 01, 2006

Perfect Storm: Kobe Bryant Scores 30 Third Quarter Points Without Missing a Shot, Drops 52 as Lakers Rout Jazz, 132-102

The term perfect game is usually applied in baseball--and not that frequently. If you watched Kobe Bryant's performance in the Lakers 132-102 blowout of the Utah Jazz on Thursday then you saw the closest thing that you will ever see to a basketball player being perfect, at least for 12 glorious minutes. In the third quarter, Bryant made all nine of his field goal attempts (including two three pointers), sank all 10 of his free throws and tied his own Lakers franchise record with 30 points. He also played good defense and made some gorgeous passes. Andrei Kirilenko--one of the league's best defensive players--was guarding Bryant during a good part of this time. Bryant also made his last two field goal attempts of the second quarter, including a slam dunk right in Kirilenko's grill, so he actually made 11 straight field goals. Bryant hit deep threes, running jumpers, turnaround jumpers--he was so hot that when Deron Williams fouled him when he attempted a pull up three pointer on the fast break no one said anything about not fouling a jump shooter; TNT's Steve Kerr said that you have to contest someone's shot when they are that hot. In addition to the flying facial to close out the first half, Bryant delivered an even more impressive dunk in the third quarter, posterizing Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.

After the game, Bryant said that it felt like he was playing a video game. TNT's Marv Albert, who has seen more than a few great games, declared during the telecast, "This will go down as one of the great performances of all-time for a single quarter." Kerr added, "You get an idea of just how much better Kobe Bryant--or Michael Jordan--is than everybody else out on the floor. When you consider how good NBA players are, that's just amazing. Kobe was just a man among boys tonight." Bryant sat out the last half minute of the third quarter or he might have tied George Gervin's NBA record of 33 points in a quarter. As Albert and Kerr mentioned, Gervin's effort came in the last game of the 1978 season when he was gunning for the scoring title in an otherwise meaningless game. Bryant's performance came in the middle of the season against the team with the best record in the NBA. Bryant made a token appearance in the fourth quarter before returning to the bench. He finished with 52 points on 19-26 shooting from the field and 12-15 free throw shooting, adding four rebounds and three assists and committing only one turnover in 34 minutes. This was the 12th 50 point game of Bryant's career and his highest scoring output since his epochal 81 point game last year; the Lakers are 9-3 in those contests.

In the wake of this astounding performance, ESPN's Ric Bucher asks a very logical question: When will people quit trying to anoint others and simply admit that Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player on the planet? Bucher writes, "How many times must Kobe demonstrate that no one in the league--and I mean no one--has his combination of skill, tenacity, understanding of time and score, killer instinct and ability to control the game at both ends? And how many times must I be the one taking the flag and waving it? Trust me, if you're sick of me sticking up for Kobe, I'm equally sick of having to do it. It shouldn't be this difficult to have the man recognized as the league's all-around best player. OK, so you don't like him. I'm good with that. But not respect him? Not give him his due? Anoint anyone who hasn't accomplished half of what he has as The King or The One or The Whatever?"

The rest of the game kind of falls into the "Oh, by the way" category but it is at least worth mentioning that the Lakers simply destroyed the team that has the best record in the league, a squad that beat the San Antonio Spurs last night. Yes, the Jazz were playing the second game of a back to back but the Lakers' overall performance was very impressive. Lamar Odom had 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and Maurice Evans--a nice offseason acquisition--scored 17 points in 23 minutes. The Lakers outrebounded the Jazz, the league's best rebounding team, 43-34. Boozer finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Jazz rookie Paul Millsap had 13 points on 6-7 shooting and seven rebounds in only 17 minutes; as Kerr noted, some guys just have a nose for the ball and he might be the steal of the draft.

The Lakers improved to 10-5 and are in first place in the Pacific Division. The one cautionary note about their early success is that their schedule has been heavily loaded with home games, meaning that they will have to do well on the road in the second half of the season to maintain their position in the standings--but Thursday was not about the standings or cautionary notes or anything other than the best player in the game putting on a classic performance. If you missed it, you missed something really special.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:50 AM



At Friday, December 01, 2006 4:52:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I'm glad I actually caught this game. It was an incredible performance.

I believe Kobe is the best player in the NBA, but I'm not sure that he is so much better than everyone else that he should be universally acknowledged as the best, as Bucher is insisting. Why? It's tough to discount Dwyane Wade's amazing performance during the finals, which I feel ranks right up there with the best performances of all time.

I actually think Kobe was a little better as an all-around player from 2001-2003. Kobe is probably a better shooter now, and probably more "wise" or "saavy". Back then though, Kobe rebounded better and played better defense. I actually think (despite his selection to the all-defense first team) that Kobe's defense wasn't that good (at least by his standards) during last season. This year, though, Kobe has stepped up his D again. We'll see if he keeps it up. I also think Kobe should be getting 6-7 boards instead of 5.

At Friday, December 01, 2006 4:54:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Also, I'm not sure Kobe is CLEARLY better than Tim Duncan.

At Friday, December 01, 2006 2:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article, Kobe was unstoppable last night

At Friday, December 01, 2006 4:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe also had some great games alongside O'Neal in the NBA playoffs and he showed the ability to not only play alongside O'Neal during three straight championship seasons but also to carry the team (for short stretches at least) when O'Neal was sidelined by injuries or foul trouble. Kobe had a string of 40 point regular season games when Shaq was out and also had many big plays and games during the title runs. It is tough for Kobe or Wade to do such things because those teams were built around Shaq, so when Shaq was out of the lineup the complementary players did not necessarily mesh with their games as well as they did with Shaq's. The bottom line is, we've seen Kobe win three titles with Shaq and we've seen Kobe do amazing things without Shaq. In my estimation, he is still ahead of Wade on both counts--rings and specatucular performances. Wade is a great player, but he is neither as versatile offensively nor as tenacious defensively as Kobe.

The Bryant-Duncan comparison is interesting. An article years ago--I think that it was by Pete Axthelm in Newsweek--made the point that Larry Bird may be the best all around player in the game but that Robert Parish was more valuable. Whether or not you agree with that, the idea is that a legitimate big man who can score on the block, rebound and shut down the paint on defense is perhaps even more important to a team's success than an all around player who cannot be quite so dominant in the paint.

Bucher's point, which I agree with, is that Kobe has no weaknesses--he can dribble, shoot and pass with either hand, he rebounds, he defends and he can score from anywhere on the court. He draws fouls and makes his free throws. Duncan is a suspect free throw shooter. His passing has improved but is not necessarily the strongest part of his game. Don't ge me wrong--I'm not knocking Duncan, who I consider to be the greatest power forward of all-time. I think that Kobe is a more skilled player overall, but I would not necessarily disagree that Duncan is perhaps more dominant/valuable.

How many guys could do what Kobe did last night? He made 11 straight field goals from all angles and just completely took over a game against the team with the best record in the NBA. He is now the only player in NBA history to have two 30 point quarters. If Kobe's heroics hadn't put the game so out of reach, he might have gone for 65, 70 or more. Last year he had 62 against Dallas in three quarters and then sat out the fourth.

At Friday, December 01, 2006 5:23:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Good points about the difference between big men and non-big men.

I've always felt that a great defensive big man has more individual impact on defense than a great defensive player who's not so big. Why? A Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen alone could lock up one guy (of course, when you put Rodman, Pippen and Jordan on the same team, their D becomes more than the sum of their parts). A Hakeem Olajuwon or Wilt Chamberlain, on the other hand, could shut down the paint for all players.

I agree for the most part with your assessment of Bryant vs. Duncan (though I still feel Kobe should rebound more). However, it has become fashionable in recent years to somewhat dismiss what big men bring to the table because it is not as "skillful" or "complete" as what other players do. When discussing the greatest players, people like to point out how Wilt or Kareem were "dominant", and then go on to talk about how MJ was the best ever. I think this is because people are naturally more impressed by a "skillful" play like a fadeaway jumper or a drive through the lane or a three pointer than a post-up game which appears to rely on size and brute force rather than "skill".

I always felt that (before he became the good guy to Kobe's villain) Shaq was not given his due. Critics liked to downplay his greatness because his game didn't look pretty or skillful, and it wasn't very "complete". Here I'd like to point out that, IMO, having a more "complete" or "versatile" game doesn't necessarily make one player better than another. In 2000, most NBA teams probably had a more versatile offensive player on their roster than Shaq, but none had a more effective offensive player.

At Saturday, December 02, 2006 8:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree that Shaq went through a period in his career during which he was largely unappreciated. After all, he was the most dominant player in the game for quite some time and won exactly one regular season MVP award.

He began to be more appreciated after he teamed up with the best all around, most skilled player in the game--Kobe Bryant--to win three titles. Winning generally brings about more recognition and appreciation. Last year Shaq teamed up with one of the best all around players in the game and won another title. That championship--and Miami's struggles so far this year without him--is indeed evidence of Shaq's value.

The thing that I have always liked most about Shaq is that he understands his strengths and weaknesses. He doesn't shoot three pointers or try to dribble the ball up the court (except in All-Star Games or when his team is way ahead); he goes down to the low block, accepts (and gives out) physical punishment and is very productive. My only critique of Shaq is that his conditioning--and to some extent his work ethic; the two are related, of course--has rarely been on par with that of the other great players, who tend to hone their bodies and minds to a razor's edge (Erving, Bird, Magic, Jordan, Kobe are all examples of guys who were among the best conditioned athletes mentally and physically).

At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 8:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know i'm late on this one, but I've only just discovered your blog. First of all, I'd like to point out that Kobe's performance was indeed amazing.

Secondly, I don't think it's fair to put Bryant on the level of those greats in terms of conditioning. He's struggled throughout his entire career to complete a season, whereas, Michael for example was the NBA's iron man for most of his career.

Right now, if you're going to talk about honing the body and exceptional condititioning, you've got to point that toward Bruce Bowen - the leagues current iron man.

On another note, almost completely unrelated, I think it's becoming far too repetetive and stupid to compare Kobe Bryant to the all time greats - PARTICULARLY Michael Jordan.

The amount of young, naive fans out there that claim Kobe to be the GOAT or greater than Michael Jordan is becoming sad - both for the league and those of us who've had the pleasure of living through both eras. In my opinion, this is largely due to the media's obsession with having to find somebody that makes us feel so in love with the game of basketball. It's time to realise that along with that being impossible, it's also nearing impossible for a guard to gain the statistical accomplishments and prowess, the awards, and the overall legacy.

I'm getting tired of the hype. I'm getting tired of a player looking like the greatest player on Earth one night, and posting up a 4-17 shooting game the next night only to be defended until the end of time as not only the game's greatest player today, but possibly the games greatest ever.

Inconsitency has been the story of Kobe Bryant's career. As a long time fan and serious observer of the game, it makes me sick to my stomach to see him continously compared to greats such as Magic, Jordan, Bird, or Oscar.

Then again, people were comparing T-Mac to Jordan after his 32ppg season. It really goes to show how much people are starting to live for the moment and neglecting the truth about the past.

At any rate, I've had pleasure in reading many of your articles and would like to let you know that I'll keep on reading.


At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 4:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

My reference to Kobe's conditioning refers to the fact that he seems fresh and energized at the end of these high scoring performances. This is very unusual, even for great players. I've talked about this with current and former players and they are also struck by Bryant's stamina. People don't understand how much energy it takes to get off 30 shots in an NBA game and to sustain the kind of impact that Kobe has offensively--not to mention the fact that he usually is guarding the toughest perimeter threat on the other team as well. Some injuries are unavoidable no matter how well conditioned you are. Jordan missed almost an entire season because of a broken foot. Jerry Rice was in tremendous shape but he tore up his knee and missed a season. What Kobe does have in common with those guys is that he comes back from injuries ahead of schedule and on many occasions is able to play hurt when other players would not or could not. His injuries have not come from a lack of conditioning.

Bowen is an iron man but keep in mind that he is basically only playing at one end of the court. On offense all he does is shoot open three pointers from the corner; he is not driving to the hoop and accepting contact from seven footers on a regular basis.

I have never claimed that Kobe is greater than MJ. I have said--and continue to believe--that he is the closest thing to MJ among current players, for a number of reasons: he is the most complete (outside, inside, high ft%) scorer in the game, the most unstoppable scorer in the game, he rises to the occasion in clutch situations and, perhaps most importantly, like MJ he is both the player you want to take the last second shot and the player you want to have guarding the guy who is taking the last second shot.

I think that it is a bit extreme to say that Kobe's career has been characterized by inconsistency. He got off to a slower start than MJ because he came to the NBA straight out of high school (and came to a team that already had All-Star caliber guards) but since he has become a top player his performances have not only been consistent but they have been remarkable. Kobe may not be better than MJ, Oscar and the legends who came before him but it is no disgrace to say that Kobe is a great player. His 81 point game, his two months of averaging 40-plus ppg (something that only Wilt has done more often), his 35 ppg season, his contributions to three championship teams--all of this amounts to a Hall of Fame resume if he retired today.

If anything, I think that the media is more critical of Kobe the player because some people don't like Kobe the person. He should have won last year's MVP for taking a team with a CBA guard and an inexperienced frontcourt (other than Odom--talk about an inconsistent player, though...) to the playoffs. This year, Bryant has the Lakers near the top of the entire league even though Odom has missed extensive time.

Bryant is truly remarkable and when I talk to retired players about him they agree with that sentiment. They seem to have a higher opinion of him than many media members do because they understand how difficult it is to do the things he does. Keep in mind that the ones who compare Bryant to MJ are often former players--Steve Kerr, Doug Collins, Mark Jackson. Comparing doesn't mean that Kobe is better than MJ--it means that he is similar.

We tend to forget the bad things as time passes. If you read Sam Smith's Jordan Rules you might find it interesting that before the Bulls won their six titles that MJ was viewed--by his own teammates, including Bill Cartwright--as a great athlete who did not understand how to play winning basketball. MJ was very focused on getting his individual numbers.

At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 9:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of good points. I just want you to know, I don't dislike or detest Bryant as a player or a person - I'm a fan. This won't be well structured, I'm in a hurry. Sorry.

Bryant is clutch in that he can score in the fourth quarter and take over a game. But, there are a lot of players over the years who have averaged more points in the last 2 minutes, and a lot of players who total more stats on a consistant basis in TRUE clutch situations. Hell, out of all the NBA players in history who've had over 20 game winning attempts, Bryant's percentage is the lowest at [if i'm recalling right] something like 18.9%. His percentage for the last 4 years has been something like 26%. I'm being vague here, but they're pretty accurate figures from what I've read in the recent past from credible sources.

What we've experienced with Kobe is a media outburst. Because there's somebody, through mannerisms and model-of-game, that reminds us of Michael on the court. However, that's not to say that much of the media have a bias that is clearly geared against him.

But to use his 81, to use his 2003 and 2005 seasons and the odd games where he looks like the greatest player on Earth in hopes to justify his greatness - I find it ridiculous. To me, he's only had two truly great seasons as a player. Those seasons being his 2006 and 2003 seasons.

I think, over the course of both of their careers, Iverson has been the far more consistant player. He's been iverson every season, he's got the scoring titles, he's even taken a pathetic team to the NBA finals.

It hasn't been until recently that Kobe Bryant has truly cemented his game. He's only recently got his fundamentals absolutely down pat, and hell, he's still chasing that elusive 50%FG that almost every great guard has achieved.

As for the iron man subject, I'd just like to point out that last season Bryant got something like 70% of his points from jump shots-so it's kind of hard to say, at the moment, that he's recently been taking a pounding from the paint players.

There are areas of Kobe that are simply astonishing - his ability to turn it up to a 7th gear. His amazing stamina. Two 30 point quarters. Perfect shooting. He's done things that elude the greats such as Jordan. Yet those same greats have done far more that elude Mr. Bryant.

It is extreme to say that Bryant's career has been riddled with inconsistancy, but in comparison to the great players you're comparing him with, it's been absolutely true. For Bryant to have two truly great seasons, and compare that those moments on the court where he looked absolutely astounding, to being a player such as Michael Jordan and coming out as the dominating, fearless Michael Jordan for 13 offensively crazy seasons as a Bull... I find it simply ridiculous.

What I've found that people truly tend to forget about Bryant, are the bad games. And there's been a HELL of a lot of those over the years, probably more than there has been great games. For example: 47 FG attempts for 41 points in 2002. Or the 4 games in 2006 where he shot for figures such as 3-14 from three point land.

And, yes, his career is yet to be over so this whole debate is a little premature. But, unless you're comparing Kobe's greatest *moments* on the court to Jordan's and Magic's, etc... Then it's also a moot argument. At least in my opinion - but hey, I'm just another fan of the game with very little credibility when it comes to journalism.

P.S - If you were referring to me about forgetting about Jordan's low points, well you're wrong. Haha. He was definately selfish, most evidently throughout his younger years. But he did still have a burning passion to win, and I don't think anybody can deny that. I remember in 1990 against Cleveland, when he dropped his 69, he went absolutely off on Bill Cartwright. I think that was one of the low points of his career. He actually made me feel bad for Bill on the court.


At Thursday, January 18, 2007 7:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

A player's average in the last two minutes could be a misleading stat. The tenth man on a dominant team might be leading this category because he is always playing in garbage time with his team up 20. Clutch is not defined purely by when or how many but by the totality of the situation. The Patriots' drive at the end of the first half versus the Chargers was clutch play by Brady and crew, even though it wasn't at the end of the game and even though Brady had mediocre numbers overall.

So, without actually seeing exactly what numbers you have and what your "credible" sources are, I really can't address the first part of your comment. I do recall MJ doing a commercial about how many times he failed and that is why he succeeded. I remember Bryant playing well in a game 7 versus Sac, having some monster games against the Spurs in various series, carrying the Lakers in at least one of the games against the Pacers when Shaq either fouled out or was hurt and hitting some amazing jumpers versus Portland at the end of the '04 season that moved the Lakers up TWO spots in the playoff positioning by clinching the division title.

I don't understand how you can say that he only has "odd" games in which he looks like the greatest player or that he has only been consistent in two seasons. He was the primary playmaker on three championship teams. He always guards the toughest perimeter threat. Since '01 he has averaged between 24 and 35 ppg, between 4.5 and 6 apg and between 5.3 and 6.9 rpg every year. He made the All-Star team each year, one of the All-NBA teams five of six years and one of the All-Defensive teams five of the six years. His playoff averages during those six seasons fall within roughly the same parameters (24.5 to 32.1 ppg, 4.6 to 6.1 apg, 4.7 to 7.3 rpg). He has maintained an elite level of production for many years and did so on championship teams for three of those seasons.

I like Iverson a lot as a player but when you say that he has been Iverson every year you have to take the good with the bad. He has shot .421 from the field in the regular season and .402 in the playoffs. He has led the league in turnovers twice and has 500 more turnovers than Kobe despite playing fewer career games. He gets a lot of steals but is not the one on one, lock down defender that Kobe is, nor can he guard the range of positions that Kobe can. He is a remarkable player but I doubt that too many coaches or GMs would take him over Kobe.

It is strange to say that I am selectively choosing example of Kobe's greatness and then mention one game four years ago when he took 47 shots and a few games when he shot a bad three point percentage. Every great player has had a few games like that. Kobe AVERAGED 35 ppg last year, which no one has done since MJ and is one of the top averages in the history of the league. You don't maintain an average like that by being good every once in a while.

Bryant has been fundamentally sound for years, offensively and defensively. To say otherwise suggests that you have not really watched him play with a careful, objective eye. Look at his footwork, his ability to finish with either hand, his ball handling, his defensive positioning.

How can you say that Iverson (with the shooting numbers mentioned above) is more consistent that Bryant and then criticize Bryant for not shooting .500 from the field? Jordan did it, in a different era, but how many other guards have done that for a career? Not many and none of the high scoring ones (West, Oscar, Maravich, Archibald, Isiah, Monroe, etc.).

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 10:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basically, this could go on for days. For every retort you have, I'll have one.

Let's end this here, with a simple question and a simple answer:

Where do you rate Bryant among the all time greats of the game? Furthermore, among the active players in the league, where do you place his career output in comparison to the others? (Of course, if anybody ever reads this, it's simply based on his unfinished career).

As I've been trying to say, I'm a big fan of Bryant and there's definately no aggrivation in any of my posts - i'm just both curious and confused.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 5:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

We've actually had some Kobe Bryant discussions here that went on for weeks.

As you seem to understand, the questions that you are asking are not simple ones, but I will do my best to answer them concisely.

If I were making up a new list of the 50 Greatest Players, Bryant would definitely be in there. If I were ranking players within that group, I'd probably have him somewhere in the middle of that list. If he continues to play at his current level for a few more years, he would move up. If he leads the Lakers to a title as the primary guy, that would also move him up. I do not consider him to be as good as Jordan; I consider him the most Jordan-like player--in style but also in impact--in today's game.

Comparing Kobe's career output to the league's current players is tricky. LeBron and Wade have just started their careers, while Shaq's career is almost over. If you compare Kobe's first few years to LeBron and Wade's, Lebron and Wade look better because they came in and immediately made an impact--but Bryant was one of the first preps to pros players of this era (Moses and Dawkins did it back in the day) and that crop of high schoolers all took time to develop (KG, TMac, etc). I'd take Kobe now over LeBron and Wade now, narrowly. Kobe is better defensively and more versatile offensively (better three point shooter, better footwork).

Shaq and Duncan have the most rings (not counting role players like Horry) among active players who could legitimately be considered superstars. Since they've got the individual numbers and the rings, you'd have to say they've had the best careers of the active players. I'd rate Kobe's impact right behind them. He has three rings and was a vital member of those championship teams. Shaq was the dominant player but the Lakers would not have won a single title without Kobe's playmaking, clutch scoring and staunch defense.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 11:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a very fair opinion. I guess I brought up a lot of points before that weren't really necessary, so thanks for your time and point-blank response.



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