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Friday, January 05, 2007

Lakers Outlast Kings in Overtime, 132-128

Kobe Bryant had 42 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the L.A. Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings 132-128 in overtime in the second half of TNT's Thursday night doubleheader. Mike Bibby led the Kings with 38 points, adding seven rebounds and six assists.

The TNT telecast had a different flavor because Charles Barkley took over color commentary duties for Steve Kerr, who missed the game due to back spasms. Barkley emphasized two pertinent themes throughout the game: (1) the Kings are too small to match up with the Lakers in the paint and (2) Andrew Bynum needs to be much more aggressive when he catches the ball in the post, particularly against smaller defenders. "Just take him--he can't guard you down there. The game is so simple; these guys make it hard," an exasperated Barkley exclaimed at one point when Bynum did not immediately attack a smaller defender. The fact that Bryant's teammates do not always seize opportunities to be aggressive on offense is important to note.

Bynum had a productive first quarter with seven points but Brian Cook stole the show with 13 first quarter points. Cook made his first six shots from the field. Barkley said that players like Cook are "teasers" because they have a good game every two weeks but are not consistent enough to play well every night. The 13 points represented a season-high for Cook for an entire game (he finished with 26). "For this to be his season-high--that's a disgrace," Barkley declared. Bryant had four assists in the first quarter and only one shot attempt, a long three pointer that he missed as the shot clock wound down. The Lakers led 33-18 at the end of the period, shooting 15-24 from the field.

Bryant drove to the hoop aggressively several times during the second quarter, scoring 18 points in the period. He also had two assists. Barkley, who has been critical of Bryant's play in the past, said, "I think that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. He is unstoppable." Barkley liked that Bryant started the game by getting his teammates involved and only later began taking more shots.

Bryant picked up his seventh assist early in the third quarter with a sweet feed to Bynum, whose basket put the Lakers up 80-60. A Cook jumper extended the lead to 83-62 and viewers seemed to be in for extended "gar-bage time," as play by play man Marv Albert would put it. Inexplicably, the Lakers then abandoned the inside game and the Kings went on a 21-7 run to close the quarter, pulling to within 90-83. It would have been even closer if not for Bryant's three point play near the end of the period. Those were Bryant's only points in the quarter; he continued to look for his teammates but the Lakers shot just 6-16 from the field.

The Kings continued their run early in the fourth quarter when Bryant took his customary rest, trimming the lead to 90-87 when Ron Artest fed a cutting Kevin Martin. Bryant returned to action at the 8:58 mark with the Lakers leading 94-88. In the next 2:40 he made a three pointer, assisted on a Sasha Vujacic jumper, scored on a dunk and drained a jumper. At the end of that flurry, the Lakers led 106-94 and again seemed to have matters well in hand--but the Lakers failed to score for nearly three minutes and the Kings cut the lead to 106-103. Bryant broke the drought with an offensive rebound that he converted with a two handed dunk. The Kings took their first lead of the night on two Martin free throws with 2:14 remaining in the fourth quarter and seemed to be headed to victory after John Salmons' two free throws with six seconds left put the Kings up 116-112. Vladimir Radmanovic nailed a three pointer off of a well executed out of bounds play, Martin split a pair of free throws and the Lakers had one last chance with four seconds left. Of course, Bryant received the inbounds pass. The Kings immediately trapped him and he dished the ball to Smush Parker, whose driving layup tied the score at 117 just before the buzzer. That play is a classic example of how a great player makes other players better in ways that don't appear in the statistics. Bryant did not receive an assist but he made the whole play happen: his ability to hit clutch shots forced the Kings to double team him and his ability to make a good pass out of the double team (not as easy as it sounds) enabled the cutting Parker to catch the ball in a good position to score.

Bryant dominated the overtime period, scoring nine of the Lakers' 15 points and making some excellent passes that led to free throw opportunities for his teammates. He clinched the victory by grabbing a defensive rebound and making two free throws with four seconds left and then added two more free throws when the Kings fouled him with .5 seconds remaining.

Barkley made an interesting observation in the overtime, asking rhetorically, "What's better than an open shot?" after watching several Lakers not shoot open shots and subsequently turn the ball over or commit a foul. That is a point that I made numerous times last season when critics said that Bryant forced shots or took bad shots: many of the members of his "supporting cast" are reluctant to shoot the ball in critical situations, even if he spoonfeeds them wide open shots. This often leads to Bryant getting the ball back with the shot clock winding down and the defense draped all over him--and that is why he sometimes takes shots early in the shot clock, particularly if he only has one defender on him; those shots are less contested and more easy to convert than the "hand grenades" (as I like to call them) that wind up in his hands as the shot clock is about to "explode." The other Lakers are doing a better job this year of taking those shots, so Bryant is "forcing" fewer shots--but the change is not so much in his "unselfishness" as it is in their approach to the game. Bryant is not receiving as many "hand grenades" this year but he got one with a little over a minute left in the overtime and the Lakers leading 124-121. Bryant had the ball at the top of the key, but the Kings double teamed him and he passed to Maurice Evans on the wing. Evans eyed a wide open jumper--and promptly passed the ball back to Bryant. With the shot clock winding down, Bryant drove to the right baseline, elevated over multiple defenders and cold bloodedly sank a fadeaway jumper. In the box score, that shot looks the same as a fadeaway that is taken with 20 seconds on the shot clock but the difference is that Bryant made the right basketball play: he passed the ball when he was double teamed instead of forcing a shot. When the open man refused to shoot, Bryant created something out of nothing. Earlier in the overtime, Bryant delivered two great passes, one to Cook and one to Bynum, that resulted in three made free throws; no assists are awarded on such plays, but those points were created by Bryant's court vision, an aspect of his game that most critics either ignore or else treat as a recent development that happened as a result of Bryant's offseason knee surgery; supposedly, according to this "logic," Bryant's knee is hampering him to the point that he is forced to pass the ball. I'm still trying to figure out (1) how hampered he can be if he is averaging almost 29 ppg and (2) how a surgical procedure on his knee made him better able to see the floor and deliver passes.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:21 AM



At Friday, January 05, 2007 8:11:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Barkley sounds like he was wonderfully entertaining in his premiere, but I can't help but wonder how long it is until he says something that gets him booted.

At Friday, January 05, 2007 9:22:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Barkley is comedy. When he said, "You better do that double team." I laughed for 10 minutes straight. The way he talks is funny. He was good because he talked like he was at home watching the game.....most analysts dont do that. Id rather hear him than Kerr.

At Friday, January 05, 2007 4:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Barkley was entertaining and he also was informative, even though he sometimes contradicts himself: he said that the Kings could not handle Bynum one on one because of Bynum's size advantage--but then he questioned why the Kings were double teaming Bynum late in the game. Perhaps they were adjusting to the reality that they couldn't guard him one on one?


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