Surprise, Surprise: Lakers Totally Eclipse SunsKobe Bryant is a distraction--not to the Lakers but to the Chicago Bulls, whose fans chanted his name as their team fell to 0-2 with a 96-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Meanwhile, Bryant had 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals as the Lakers delivered the stunner of the first few days of the 2007-08 season, routing Phoenix 119-98 in the Suns' home opener. Bryant (+27), Jordan Farmar (+26) and Derek Fisher (+19) had the three best plus/minus ratings in this contest. In more conventional terms, Fisher scored 14 points on 7-9 shooting, while Farmar had eight points and three assists off the bench. Vladimir Radmanovic led the Lakers with 19 points and Andrew Bynum added 14 points and 13 rebounds as the Lakers annihilated the Suns 54-34 on the boards; Shawn Marion had 10 rebounds, Brian Skinner grabbed eight, Boris Diaw had five and no other Sun had more than three. Leandro Barbosa led Phoenix with 23 points. Steve Nash scored 19 points on 7-15 shooting but had just three assists, one steal and no rebounds while committing five turnovers. Stoudemire shot 2-10 from the field and finished with seven points and one rebound.
Early in the game, ESPN color commentator Hubie Brown agreed with Houston's Shane Battier, who said of Bryant that he never takes off even one possession in a 48 minute game. However, right after that, ESPN sideline reporter Ric Bucher described Bryant warming up by himself before the game and concluded his report by solemly intoning, "Whether he is showing it on the court or not, there is clearly a separation between he and the rest of the Lakers." Play by play announcer Dan Shulman then asked Brown if a team can be successful despite such a separation (never mind that how a player warmed up before one game hardly proves that there is such a separation). Brown replied sensibly, "Listen, that happens on a lot of great teams, depending upon how good that player is. Kobe Bryant is the number one player in this league. He is going to come out here and show everybody. Until management takes either a no trade (stance) or Kobe himself decides that he does not want to be traded, this is going to be fodder for the media. The big thing is, night in and night out, he is going to come out and show you that he is the number one player in the league."
Phoenix took an early 8-2 lead but the Lakers then went on a 17-4 run, with Fisher scoring eight points and Bryant scoring seven points; apparently, it does make a difference to have a legitimate point guard who not only puts defensive pressure on Nash but who also forces Nash to have to guard him--call it the anti-Smush Parker effect (Parker was a defensive sieve while shooting 2-13 from the field in the Lakers' five game loss to the Suns in last year's playoffs). By the end of the first quarter, the Lakers led 33-20. The Suns briefly cut the margin to nine in the second quarter but the Lakers eventually went up by as much as 17 before settling for a 63-50 halftime lead. The Lakers blew the game wide open in the third quarter, taking a 90-61 lead after Bryant fed Ronny Turiaf for a dunk. Bryant sat out the last 13:42 of the game.
It's such a shame for the know-it-all pundits that Kobe Bryant can go out and attempt 27 free throws in the first game of the season to refute questions about his commitment and that he can lead his team to a blowout road win against one of the top teams in the West despite his injured wrist and without the services of Lamar Odom, the Lakers' second best player. So many media members constructed their anti-Bryant stories with such care, only to have the cold, hard results of the basketball games--nationally televised for everyone to see--refute their "analysis."
It is fascinating to watch tremendous talent honed to a razor's edge sharpness by hard work. As much as people try to hate Bryant, he is so exceptional that at the end of the day he inevitably earns people's respect. In the Lakers' home opener, fans booed him at the start of the game but chanted his name at the end as he almost delivered victory from the jaws of defeat. On Friday, Phoenix' fans predictably booed Bryant at the start of the game but by the end they were booing their own team, a reversal of fortune perhaps even more shocking than the stark and completely unexpected verdict displayed on the scoreboard.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:37 AM