Game Within the Game: Kobe Bryant Outduels Manu Ginobili as Lakers Topple SpursKobe Bryant had 30 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals as the L.A. Lakers defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 102-97. Bruce Bowen led the Spurs with 22 points, one short of his season-high--achieved in the Spurs' 107-92 win against the Lakers on November 13--and just two fewer than his career-high. The shorthanded Spurs were missing both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, which created an interesting subplot for this game: how would Manu Ginobili do against Bryant without having the benefit of Duncan's presence in the paint? According to some statistical systems, Ginobili was a more efficient player than Bryant last season. Of course, those numbers don't take into account that Ginobili's productivity is compressed into fewer minutes than Bryant's and sometimes takes place against the other team's reserves because Ginobili is usually a sixth man, not a starter; we don't know what kind of numbers Ginobili would have put up last season if he had played 40 mpg, let alone if he had done so as a starter and without Duncan's support during a lot of those minutes--but, at least for one night, we received some answers to those questions.
In the November 13 meeting between the Spurs and the Lakers, Duncan played and, even though his shooting statistics were not great, he had a +14 plus/minus rating during his 30:30 of action. More importantly, because the Spurs' rotation was intact Ginobili was able to come off of the bench and play just 26:41, during which time he scored 17 points on 6-12 shooting while also contributing four rebounds, five assists, two steals and no blocked shots with just one turnover. Meanwhile, Bryant logged more than 38 minutes during that game, scoring 18 points on 9-19 shooting while contributing nine rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals while committing three turnovers.
Things were more than a little different on Thursday. Without Duncan and Parker to provide support, Ginobili started and played nearly 35 minutes, scoring 14 points on 5-17 shooting, adding six rebounds, three assists, no steals or blocks and seven turnovers. Note that both Ginobili's total production and his efficiency went down, not up, with additional minutes. Bryant again played more than 38 minutes and in addition to the statistics cited in the first paragraph he shot 10-24 from the field and only had one turnover. More importantly, with both stars on the court during crunch time in the fourth quarter, the Lakers outscored the Spurs 16-11 from the 6:30 mark until 1:09 remained (Ginobili went to the bench at that time and the Spurs added a couple meaningless jumpers in the waning seconds). Bryant had seven points and one assist during that game deciding stretch, while Ginobili shot 0-3 from the field and had the ball stolen from him once by Bryant, after which Bryant drove down court and made a slick feed to Ronny Turiaf for a dunk that put the Lakers up 97-86.
Of course, a complete evaluation of Bryant or Ginobili cannot be made on the basis of the two games they've played against each other this season. Ginobili is without question an All-Star level player and he is putting up the best numbers of his career so far this season. However, as good as Ginobili is, he is not at the same level as Bryant. Ginobili has never averaged 30 mpg for a whole season and he has only started 211 of his 382 career regular season games. It is much different to play a little more than half of a game--including a good portion of that time against the other team's reserves--and be productive as the second or third best player on a team than to play 40 mpg as a team's only All-Star who must not only lead his squad in scoring and assists but also frequently guard the top perimeter threat on the other team, particularly in the fourth quarter. Ginobili is a marvelous player, a joy to watch, and he fulfills his role on the Spurs to perfection--but he would not last long or be very productive if he were asked to carry a fraction of the load that Bryant has for several seasons now.
It is worth noting that Ginobili averaged 37 ppg and 6.0 apg while shooting .467 from the field as the Spurs won the first two games that Duncan missed but, including the Lakers game, Ginobili scored 13.5 ppg on .290 shooting while averaging just 2.0 apg and committing 12 turnovers as the Spurs lost the next two games. On the other hand, Bryant has shown throughout his career that he can be very productive at both ends of the court despite playing heavy minutes. Keep in mind that last season Bryant posted the highest post-All-Star Game scoring average in the past 43 years and that he averaged nearly 6 rpg and more than 5 rpg in those games while playing good enough defense to earn selection to the All-Defensive First Team. Ginobili's contributions in limited minutes on a championship team last season are certainly commendable but it is unfounded to assume that he would maintain that level of efficiency while playing significantly greater minutes; it is also incorrect to ignore that Ginobili neither guards nor is guarded by the opponent's best perimeter player as frequently as Bryant assumes both of those roles for his team. Bowen usually handles the toughest defensive assignment for the Spurs and Ginobili usually plays at least his initial minutes against the opponent's bench players, though he is of course also usually on the court during key fourth quarter minutes--albeit he is well rested by that time, a luxury that Bryant rarely has.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:13 AM