Another 50 Point Game for Kobe, Another Win for the LakersKobe Bryant scored 50 points in a 109-102 L.A. Lakers win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night. He has now scored 115 points in his last two games, the third highest two game total in the past 40 years, surpassed only by his own 118 points last year (37 and then his career high 81) and Michael Jordan's 118 in 1990. This is the first time that Bryant has scored at least 50 points in consecutive games. The last Laker to have consecutive games with 50 or more points is Elgin Baylor, who actually had three straight games of 50-plus points in December 1962. According to ESPN, Bryant is also the first player other than Wilt Chamberlain to follow a game of 60-plus points with a game of 50-plus points; Chamberlain did this 14 times. I think that Bryant should change his first name to FPOTWC--granted, the lack of vowels would make that acronym hard to pronounce but it would be a convenient shorthand since it seems that several times per year Bryant is the "First Player Other Than Wilt Chamberlain" to do something or other (Quick aside: we are able to see Bryant in living color and then catch replays of his exploits on various highlight shows and he is amazing--so how good was Wilt, who did everything that Bryant is doing, only more frequently?). Bryant's 16th 50 point game leaves him one short of tying Baylor for third most 50 point games in a career (Chamberlain had 118 and Michael Jordan had 31); the Lakers are 12-4 in those games.
Bryant could have threatened the 60 point mark versus Minnesota but apparently the officiating crew was watching his follow through so closely for any errant elbows that they neglected to notice several occasions when he was slapped on the head or face when he was shooting and one time when Kevin Garnett hit Bryant's shooting arm while he was launching a three pointer; the shot went in, Bryant hit the deck and nothing was called. Bryant stood up, waved his hand dismissively in the direction of the nearest official (a gesture he delivered more than once throughout the evening) and got back on defense. Bryant seemed particularly hyped up during the game, enthusiastically congratulating his teammates when they made good plays and bellowing loudly after he scored a basket to put the Lakers up 97-92 with 2:28 left. He was fouled on the play and made the free throw for his 45th point--obviously, this was a huge play considering the score and the amount of time remaining.
Speaking of Garnett, nominally the other superstar who played in this game, he finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. That is a very impressive stat line but if you watched the game Garnett was largely invisible. He did nothing to slow down Lamar Odom and when the T-Wolves made their run it was mainly Ricky Davis (33 points, six rebounds, six assists) who provided the scoring. This game was a classic illustration of what Scottie Pippen meant when he said last year, "He's very productive but unproductive. He gets you all the stats you want, but at the end of the day his points don't have an impact on [winning] the game. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, but in the last five minutes of the game he ain't the same player as in the first five." The simple fact is that Garnett, despite all of his versatility and his gaudy numbers, cannot carry a team because he is unable or unwilling to plant himself in the paint and score, draw double teams or get fouled. He is like a glorified Rasheed Wallace; Sheed cannot lead a team anywhere but he is a great complementary piece for a squad that has several other All-Stars who are willing to shoulder the load in crunch time. The one good year that Minnesota has had in the Garnett era is when Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were there to make all the big plays down the stretch of ball games. When I spoke with five-time All-Star Brad Daugherty recently he told me that one of the big differences between today's NBA and the NBA when he played is that Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving shouldered the responsibility to lead their teams. In contrast, Daugherty said, "Now you have guys who are tremendous athletes but they might not be very good leaders. I see all the time that they talk about guys and say, ‘We need to get someone else to play with this guy so that he has a chance to win.’ Well, that’s ridiculous. If a guy is a superstar then he needs to lead his team to the best of his ability and make his teammates better. That’s the way I look at it. I think that there is a vast void because of this." Daugherty did not specify who he was talking about but I cannot think of anyone who Daugherty's critique fits better than Kevin Garnett.
Back to Bryant's magical performance. Minnesota tried various defenders on him, went to a zone for a period of time but achieved their greatest success (relatively speaking) in the fourth quarter by having one defender drape his body all over Bryant while holding on to Bryant's jersey and then sending another defender over to help when Bryant broke free and caught the ball. This "bump and run" defense "held" Bryant to 12 points in the fourth quarter; of course, Bryant did sit out for a few minutes to rest, so he might have had a 20 point fourth quarter anyway if he had played all 12 minutes.
Bryant's two game outburst has propelled him past Carmelo Anthony and into first place in the race for the 2007 scoring title. More significantly for the Lakers, they have now won two in a row after previously dropping seven straight contests. The Lakers are rounding into form just in the nick of time, aided by the return to the lineup of Lamar Odom (16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and Luke Walton (10 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds). Smush Parker had the game of his life, scoring 19 points on 8-10 shooting, adding nine assists and seven rebounds. Anyone who does not think that Bryant makes his teammates better should consider if those players would be putting up quite the same numbers if they were not playing four on three while two defenders shadow Bryant. The Lakers have moved up to the sixth spot in the Western Conference but that is actually a bit of a mixed blessing. If the top of portion of the standings remains unchanged then the Lakers would play San Antonio in the first round; the Lakers would actually be better off finishing seventh and playing the Suns, who they almost beat in the first round last year.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:39 AM