The Old Bait and SwitchNot surprisingly, I never received a direct response when I pointed out that Kobe Bryant's recent scoring binge is much more historically rare than Steve Nash's 32/16 or 28/22 points/assists combos (which came in different seasons, not consecutive games). Instead what I got was the classic "bait and switch," shifting the discussion from consecutive 50 point games versus points/assists combos to whether Nash has ever done something as historically rare as what Bryant just did. The answer is that Nash has done some pretty nice things in playoff series, such as posting double figures in assists in seven straight games (only Magic Johnson and John Stockton have done that) and being the only player ever to have four straight playoff games with 25 points and 10 assists.
There were a couple others, but the main idea is that Nash has done some things in the playoffs that are allegedly as rare and significant as Kobe Bryant's recent scoring run. I wouldn't think that playoff accomplishments are where Nash advocates would want to go in the Bryant-Nash debate, because then they have to address the fact that Bryant has three rings plus one other Finals appearance. Yes, Kobe played with Shaq--and Nash played several seasons with MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki and is currently playing with All-NBA caliber players like Amare and Marion.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers in assists each of the three championship years. He made the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams each year. In the '01 playoffs, Kobe averaged 29.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 6.1 apg, leading the team in assists and ranking second in scoring and rebounding (Shaq averaged 30.4 ppg). This is a shooting guard leading a championship team in assists and ranking second in rebounding while scoring almost 30 ppg.
You want great individual playoff games by Kobe Bryant? OK, how about leading his team in scoring, rebounding and assists (25, 11, 7) in a game 7 come from behind win over Portland in the 2000 Western Conference Finals? Without that win there might not have been a Lakers dynasty. Two years later in game seven of the Western Conference Finals Kobe had 30, 10 and 7. How about game four against Sacramento in 2001? All Kobe had was 48 points and 16 rebounds. In his next game he had 45 and 10 versus the Spurs in the first game of a Western Conference Finals sweep.
I know what comes next. The "bait and switch" happens again, all of the above is ignored and the discussion moves straight to game seven last year against the Suns. What happened there? Kobe scored a ton in the first half to keep the Lakers close. In the third quarter he tried to get his teammates involved, they kicked the ball all over the place and the Suns blew them out. By the way, check out what happened to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in game seven versus Detroit: almost exactly the same thing. The Suns had the better team but somehow Kobe and the Lakers took them to a seventh game.
A couple other things to consider:
1) If scoring a lot against losing teams is so easy how come no one other than Wilt has scored that much in the history of the NBA? Also, Kobe had 62 points in three quarters last year against eventual NBA Finalist Dallas. By the way, since Nash advocates are so fond of W-L records, check out the Suns' record against the top teams this year (Mavericks, Spurs, Jazz): 2-6.
2) The same person who confused Jeff Foster with Greg Foster and thinks that Phil Jackson used to hide Michael Jordan on defense claims to remember several games in which Larry Bird had 40+ points but sat out at the end of blowouts rather than going for 50 or 60. That may be true, but I'd like to know which specific games that he is talking about. Meanwhile, here's a game to think about: Bird's career high 60 versus Atlanta. Check out the end of the game: it's a blowout and the Celtics are fouling the Hawks to get the ball back so that Larry can go for 60. Classy. At least Kobe's 50+ games came in competitive contests.
I know that the only likely response to this post from the person in question is mustache jokes, the "bait and switch" and so forth--but the good thing about all of this is that readers can digest all of this information and see that things are not quite the way that they are often presented to be. Why should we just accept that Steve Nash is "better" than Kobe Bryant? On what basis? There is not a statistical justification for this, nor is Nash more of a winner than Bryant. Nash is a great point guard in the 80s/90s mold. Bryant is the best player in the game today and will go down in history as one of the very greatest who ever played. If/when the Lakers assemble a better supporting cast around him he will again be in the thick of the hunt for a championship. Even this current Lakers team could still pose a challenging matchup in the playoffs, particularly to the Suns, who struggled against the Lakers in last year's postseason.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:43 PM