Lakers Clinch Playoff Berth as Kobe Scores 50 PointsKobe Bryant's critics will have to work overtime to find fault with his most recent performance: he scored 50 points on 18-25 field goal shooting (.720), grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, passed for three assists, had two steals and committed just one turnover as the L.A. Lakers defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 109-98 and clinched a playoff berth. Rashard Lewis led Seattle with 24 points.
The Lakers benefited from Kwame Brown's return and the benching of malcontent point guard Smush Parker. Brown had just three points and four rebounds but his impact is generally felt at the defensive end of the court; also, by starting him at center the Lakers are able to use Ronny Turiaf more effectively as a bench player and he responded with eight points and four rebounds in just 16 minutes. Jordan Farmar started at point guard and had nine points, three assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes; Parker came off the bench and had four points and one assist in 20 minutes.
The Lakers are now 13-5 in Bryant's 40 point games this season and 7-3 when he scores at least 50 points. They have won just two of their past eight games overall, with Bryant scoring 46 points in the other victory. The last time they won without Bryant scoring at least 40 points is on April 1 versus Sacramento; Bryant had 19 points and a season-high 13 assists in that game. Prior to that, the last time the Lakers won without Bryant scoring at least 40 points is February 26; he had 35 points, eight rebounds and four assists against Utah.
So, how can this game fit into the peculiar world view that insists that Bryant is selfish, that he is not the NBA's best player and that his scoring outbursts are nothing special? Let's try to beat Bryant's bashers to the punch:
1) Seattle is a crappy team and Ray Allen did not play, so it does not mean much to score 50 points against the SuperSonics or to beat a bad team.
Guess what? The Lakers are a crappy team, too. They benched one D-League level guard only to replace him with a rookie who they are bouncing back and forth from the D-League (Farmar looks like he will develop into a nice player, though). The Lakers' roster is so bad that the return of Kwame Brown is almost met with a hero's welcome. Could Kwame Brown start at center for any other playoff team? How many backup centers for those teams could Kwame beat out for a roster spot?
If it is so easy to score 50 points, how come Bryant is the only one who does it this frequently? Also, Bryant did drop 50 on Utah earlier this season and 62 in three quarters last year against Dallas, so it's not like he reserves such outbursts for bad teams. Bryant also had 50 points in a playoff game versus Phoenix last year that the Lakers lost not because of his scoring--which kept them in the game--but because they could not lasso one defensive rebound near the end of the contest.
2) Bryant only had three assists. He's a gunner. Why does he shoot so much?
Let's see: Bryant shot 18-25 (.720) and the rest of the team shot 24-55 (.436). If somebody was shooting too much, I don't think it was Bryant. I think that most coaches would live with three assists (and only one turnover) and .720 shooting. Anyway, Bryant's assist totals don't tell the whole story, because when he is double-teamed and passes the ball the open shot arrives after the next ball reversal. I did not get to see this game, but I'd be willing to bet that a good number of the 24 made shots opened up as a direct result of Bryant being double-teamed.
3) The Lakers can't play this way and beat a good team in a playoff series.
That is probably true. So what? Bryant's not the general manager. Bryant is leading this team to the maximum amount of wins that it is capable of getting based on its roster composition/injury problems. Bryant's Lakers have a better record against the West's elite this year than Nash's Suns do.
4) Bryant can't shoot like this every night but on the nights that he is missing he will keep shooting and the Lakers will lose.
No one can shoot like this every night; most players can't shoot like this on any night. Bryant's job is to keep shooting open shots from his high percentage areas and to pass the ball when he is double-teamed and cannot beat the trap off the dribble. Anyone who watches him play should be able to see that this is exactly what he does, game after game. Sure, he shoots better on some nights than others, but he has spent the whole season doing exactly what he has been asked to do--and nobody in the league does it better or could do as much as he has done with this kind of team.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:04 AM