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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bryant's Fourth Quarter Scoring Lifts Lakers to 107-101 Win, Series Sweep

Kobe Bryant produced another fine all-around game (31 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals, two blocked shots, 12-24 field goal shooting) as his Lakers defeated the Nuggets 107-101 to complete the only sweep in the first round of this year's playoffs. Bryant scored 14 of his points in the final 5:31 of the fourth quarter. Pau Gasol added 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, though he scored just three points in the second half. Lamar Odom, thriving as the third option in the Lakers' attack, contributed a double double (14 points, 12 rebounds). J.R. Smith led the Nuggets with 26 points, including several spectacular dunks and three three pointers but, as Magic Johnson and Kenny Smith both noted after the game, even though a lot of his long jump shots went in they were still bad shots and you cannot beat a good team when you consistently take bad shots (which is exactly what I said about Gilbert Arenas more than a year ago when some people foolishly touted him as an MVP-level player). Of course, Smith is far from the only Nugget who takes bad shots. Allen Iverson finished with 22 points on 10-22 shooting from the field but he had just two assists, an uncommonly low number for him in that department. Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points on 8-20 shooting before fouling out; Anthony missed a staggering number of dunks, layups and shots in the paint in this series, particularly in games three and four.

Anyone who still believes that Anthony is an elite NBA player needs to get some tapes of this series and compare his performance to Bryant's--particularly in the fourth quarters of each game--and it should be pretty obvious exactly what the differences are between being an All-Star who can score and an MVP-level player who impacts the outcome of a game in multiple ways: Bryant averaged 33.5 ppg while shooting .500 from the field and .333 from three point range. He also averaged 6.3 apg and 5.3 rpg while getting six steals and six blocked shots. Anthony averaged 22.5 ppg while shooting .364 from the field and .250 from three point range. Anthony averaged 9.5 rpg--half of his boardwork came on the offensive end where he was cleaning up his own misses--and 2.0 apg. He had two steals and one blocked shot. I'm not a big believer in the NBA EFF stat but Bryant came out at 30.75 in this series while Anthony registered 16.5 and that seems about right based on their relative influence on the outcome of these games.

Of course, as I always stress, there are a lot of things that the numbers simply can't quantify. For instance, consider a play that happened at the 7:29 mark in the second quarter. Bryant drove to the hoop but was cut off by his defender. He faked a shot, pivoted, attracted more defenders and then dropped off a perfect pass to D.J. Mbenga for an easy dunk to put the Lakers up 45-34. Mbenga had four career playoff points prior to this season. After Mbenga's dunk, Reggie Miller said of Bryant, "See what happens when you are the best player on the planet? You draw so much attention to yourself--three players came over." Marv Albert added, "Those are the kind of plays that Kobe was able to (do) with (Andrew) Bynum." There is a reason that Bryant can complete such plays not just with Bynum but also with Mbenga: any big man who can catch the ball and finish is going to have a lot of opportunities to score when he is on the court with Bryant. Unfortunately for the Lakers the past few years, Kwame Brown is not particularly good at catching and finishing. There is a lot of talk about how Bryant is more unselfish this season but I'm not buying it; the difference this season is not with Bryant but with the quality of his supporting cast. To put it bluntly, now he has some guys who can actually catch the ball and put it in the basket. If Bryant had dropped off a similar pass to Brown it would not likely have resulted in a score. After Brown fumbles such passes several times is it really unselfish and in the best interests of the team to continue to pass it to him? Don't tell me that Steve Nash is making Amare Stoudemire better or that Chris Paul is making David West better unless you also have something to say about Bryant's effect on Pau Gasol. If another star player or point guard takes a team to the playoffs with Kwame Brown as his starting center the way that Bryant did then we have some real news in the "making players better" department. Based on the Lakers earning the number one seed in the West despite only having Andrew Bynum for 35 games and Pau Gasol for barely a fourth of the season, I'm confident that Bryant would do just fine if he had Stoudemire or West at his side for the entire season as Nash and Paul did respectively.

There is also a lot of talk about how deep the Lakers' roster is but that is another concept that I am not completely buying. It is true that some of the younger players have improved and I have already mentioned on several occasions that having Gasol as the number two option means that Odom can slide over to the number three slot where he is much more suited--but the Lakers' bench looks a lot better when Bryant is on the court than when they are left to their own devices, particularly against good teams. Bryant took his first rest of the game with the Lakers leading 52-40 at the 5:32 mark of the second quarter. When he returned to the game with 3:07 left the Lakers were only up 56-50 but with him in the game they pushed that margin back to 64-54 by halftime. Why exactly are we supposed to believe that a team led by Gasol and Odom with the players that the Lakers bring off of the bench would be any better than Gasol's Memphis teams that got swept out of the playoffs every year? I just don't see it. The Lakers' opponents devote so much energy and so much manpower simply trying to contain Bryant that his teammates have a much easier task than they otherwise would. That does not mean that those players have no skills nor is it meant to denigrate how much some of them have improved--but Denver is a 50 win team with two All-Stars, a former Defensive Player of the Year and one of the league's top sixth men: they might very well sweep a Bryant-less Lakers team; after all, the Nuggets spent a good part of the season running up the score against teams that could not match their firepower.

Bryant had 15 points, six rebounds and four assists at halftime, while Gasol scored 18 points, taking ample advantage of the defensive attention that Bryant drew. The third quarter was a sloppy mess that should have been accompanied by some circus music; both teams missed shots, turned the ball over and looked out of whack. The Lakers' only points in the first 6:49 of the quarter came on a jumper by Bryant at the 10:16 mark. The Lakers stayed in front for most of the quarter before Denver ran off 10 straight points to take a 73-71 lead. Kenyon Martin got very excited whenever the Nuggets made the score close and earlier in the game he screamed to the crowd, "It's not over," the Nuggets' rallying cry for this game. The Lakers managed to inch in front, 79-77, by the end of the quarter.

Bryant sat out the first 3:56 of the fourth quarter. This time the bench did a good job and actually increased the lead slightly to 85-81. For the first 42 minutes or so of this game, Bryant was just having an average game by his standards--meaning that he was leading the Lakers in scoring and assists but he had not completely put his stamp on the game. Then Bryant was called for a foul while J.R. Smith attempted a three pointer--a call that Bryant frankly admitted after the game was entirely correct--and it seemed like a gong went off in Bryant's head. Smith's three free throws tied the score at 88 but Bryant reeled off seven straight points--a turnaround jumper, a three pointer and a sweet left handed layup--to put the Lakers up 95-90. Bryant was fouled on that play but he missed the free throw (he uncharacteristically made just four of his 10 free throw attempts). Smith answered with a deep three--one of the shots that Magic Johnson and Kenny Smith said was a bad shot even though it went in--and then he stole Bryant's crosscourt pass, scored a fastbreak layup and completed the three point play after Odom fouled him. Denver led 96-95 and the home crowd believed for a moment that the Nuggets would win--and then Bryant cut their hearts out. First he nailed a jumper over Martin despite Martin defending him about as well as is humanly possible. Then Bryant drove to the hoop, drew the defense and passed to Odom, who swung the ball to Luke Walton for a wide open three pointer (the kind of shot that would never be wide open without Bryant drawing so much attention). That put the Lakers up 100-96. Then Bryant proceeded to foul out Martin and Anthony by drawing three fouls on them in about a minute; that removed the Nuggets' best defender and best scorer from the game. Bryant split a pair of free throws after Anthony fouled out. Iverson launched a contested three pointer but Odom fumbled the rebound into the hands of Nene, who slammed the gift home to cut the lead to 101-98. Bryant answered with a running bank shot, Marcus Camby sank a three pointer and then Gasol dunked--his only field goal of the second half--after Bryant once again drew the defense and passed to Odom, who fed the unguarded Gasol. That made the score 105-101 with :22 left. Bryant secured the victory by stealing the ball and sinking both free throws after he was fouled.

The Lakers are now in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since trading Shaquille O'Neal after the 2004 season and this is the first time the Lakers swept a playoff series since they beat the Nets in the 2002 Finals. They will face the winner of the Utah-Houston series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:13 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Tuesday, April 29, 2008 9:35:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

JR Smith took some of the worst shots I have ever seen. Shooting from 28 feet is just immature, selfish and shows that the Nuggets have no discipline...particularly Smith.

Anthony is no where near elite. Who said he was? David, what are you reading when you make these statements? I never heard anyone say Melo was elite; however, I know you are around the media more than me so maybe thats where you hear it. Anyone with any basketball IQ can watch Melo and see he is no where near elite status. Hes just a scorer...and in the playoffs doesnt show up.

Bryant in the 4th is what he does. Shows up in the clutch and takes his team on his back. The young players of today should watch his game.

 
At Tuesday, April 29, 2008 7:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I don't have one specific article about Melo in mind but when he came into the league a lot of people tried to sell the idea of a LeBron-Wade-Melo triumvirate. LeBron is head and shoulders above the other two guys at this point. Wade had his moments--including a great NBA Finals--but he has to get healthy and prove that this season's disaster (individually and collectively) was just a one-time thing.

There also have been a few people who posted comments here about how great Melo is, though I have not heard from them recently. I just tend to remember those things and try to point out fallacies wherever I see them. Melo is a potent scorer but I cringe whenever anyone--writer or fan--tries to sell the idea that he is an elite player. Also, don't forget that one year Melo was voted as USA Basketball's Player of the Year based just on his scoring even though he did not play any defense; that was ridiculous.

 
At Tuesday, April 29, 2008 8:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

kobe was great and all but i dont think he make gasol as good as paul makes west or lebron makes his teamates better pau could play before he played on the lakers his numbers are virtually the same as they was on memphis and without him the lakers would get beat in the first round again.

they bench is good of course they look better if kobe on there the bulls bench look better when jordan was out there or any star player. dont take away the fact sasha has improved alot and is automatic from 3 and so has jordan farmar. the lakers is a great deep team the lakers didnt get nuthing from kobe and gasol for 17 minutes and still was up 3 88-85 before kobe took over the game last few minutes lakers would still be a good team without kobe clearly not as good but better than new orleans without paul and alot better than cleveland0-7 without lebron this year.

also when bynum gasol odom thats a pretty good 3 some better than west and chandler peja who need chris paul alot to do what they do and bynum and gasol are 7 footers and odom 6-10 bigger front line than hornets. iwish paul and kobe could get hurt so this would be proven to me it's not that hard to figure out.

 
At Tuesday, April 29, 2008 8:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

the post about shaq and his era will leave tommorow so ill write it hear im not picking years to favor shaq that was his era like jordan era the dont talk about 1984-1990 jordan was on the come up then so was shaq.

shaq not in your top 10? who is your top 10 then i dont see ten players bettter than shaq duncan is on the cusp of being there kobe got work ill put kobe low 20's 22 23 if he win a couple of rings probaly top 5 but he got to do that first lebron will be 1 0r 2 if he stay healthy he is the man for real.

 
At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 8:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

My Pantheon, as I explained in a series of articles that can be found on the right hand side of the front page, includes (in no particular order):

Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Earvin Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Julius Erving.

In part five of my Pantheon series I singled out four active players who may join that Pantheon after their careers are complete: Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron.

 
At Thursday, May 01, 2008 11:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I don't want to see either Kobe or CP3 get hurt and it is not necessary for that to happen in order to understand who is more valuable.

Sasha and Farmar get wide open threes when they play with Kobe. When I see them regularly creating shots on their own then I will believe that Kobe's absence would not seriously hurt their games.

Without Kobe the Lakers would have no one who can consistently break down the defense off of the dribble and they would have no true playmaker (Fisher is a spot up shooter, not a traditional point guard). Without Kobe, the Lakers would be nowhere nearly as good as Gasol's old Memphis teams, some of which won 50 games. Without Kobe, this Lakers team would not make the playoffs in the West and would struggle to win 40 games.

Kobe and CP3 are both great players but CP3 had his supporting cast for the whole season and still finished behind Kobe, who had three different teams (with Bynum, with Gasol, without either one).

Gasol and West can each create their own shots, but West has a better shooting touch and more range. Bynum and Chandler both depend on being fed in order to score. Peja is a drop dead shooter, while Lamar's primary value is his rebounding. Gasol's main advantage over West is length. West is younger and clearly has more upside.

 
At Saturday, May 03, 2008 4:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

length passing ability i think west is a little better shooter thats it really i would take pau everywhere else i dont think west will get any better than he is now and i think pau is better than he is i think pau could impact any team he goes on i dont know about west. west is not great at creating his own shot i know pau is because of all those years in memphis there was no kobe there. pau has done it without kobe west never without paul i dont think he is as good without paul i thunk you overate him and underate pau. to me and most people pau is clearly better

chandler is totally dependent on paul and all he could is catch lob passes where bynum has a good jump hook that he is developing and some nice post moves and catch lob passes there is nuthing really to compare here bynum is clearly better he is just as good a rebounder and shot blocker and defensive presence with a way bigger upside on the offensive side this is chandler 7 year this is 3rd really and the second year where he got alot of playing time and we seen what he has he will be a dominant big man chandler never will be.

sasha cant create his own shot but every time he plays is not with kobe and every time he makes a shot is not with kobe on the court he made alot of shots from penetration not from kobe when kobe is on the bench and fisher penetrates gasol gets double he comes off pick or someone else drives and kicks for them. farmar could create his own shot i seen him go around guys and score layups or pull up and take 3 or a two createing it himself that is not true he could create his own shot.

they have guys can break down the defense they pass so well with or without kobe they would be able to break down defenses plus farmar fisher odom are good penetrators and pau could get double teams which could give players good shots. and bynum if he was healthy would be a addition on offense and defense this team could win 47 games without kobe not 40 i think your undderatteing them. paul team wins 32 without him maybe who was a known player on that team without paul other than peja nobody knew who west and chandler was pau and odom played great before they were with kobe and charles barkley and kenny smith been saying how great pau was and how stupid chicago and other teams was not to trade for him he would make this type
of impact on any team he play on he did lead a team to 50 wins and mike miller was his second best player?

kobe a great player you talk as a analyst when you talk about nash shaq lebron gilbert arenas carmelo anthony allen iverson manu giniobili and all other nba players

but t mac dirk and especially kobe you talk as a fan or a stan where they never do anything wrong and it's everone else fault why they havent secceded i think your a great analyst and i love your blog but i think you should talk strictly analyst fam.

i am a fan of shaq lebron gilbert kobe and others and ill tell the truth on all them shaq should of been in better shape in his career and shouldnt of coasted as much as he did he shouldnt of made the company line reference he is a preofeessional and it was unprofeesional to be out of shape as much as he has. lebron needs to work on free throw shooting and long range shooting , gilbert needs to pass the ball because his team played better without him then with him and he ran his mouth and didnt even play in game 5 and 6.

kobe has loss the arrogance and been a team player this season and should be commended but he is not the only reason the lakers are good he plays on a great team with bigs jordan had no dominant big man kobe has had two shaq and pau and a 3rd soon in bynum. pippen was 6 ft7 but was not dominant offensivley he was defensively but he was not best player on bulls jordan was jordan relived him more than he relived jordan.

 
At Saturday, May 03, 2008 5:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Historically, great players have proven to be worth 15-20 wins. The Lakers won 57 games this year with a healthy Kobe. Do you honestly believe that this team would win 47 games without him? That is insane. Take Kobe off of this team and it would be lucky to finish 9th or 10th in the West. Golden State has a lot more talent than the Lakers sans Kobe.

I have to laugh when you say that I am analyzing Kobe, T-Mac and Dirk differently than I analyze other players. The reality is that I am analyzing all players by the same standards but you and most people have favorites; any time I say something unfavorable about someone's favorite player I supposedly "hate" him. My standard about the MVP voting has been the same all along; everyone else keeps bringing up different qualifications that should be used.

Bynum was in the process of developing a back to the basket game but when he went down with injury his numbers were about the same as Chandler's and he was getting most of his offense exactly the same way that Chandler is. When you like a guy you refer to his upside (Bynum) but when you don't like a guy you ignore upside (West).

The point about Pau is not so much how great he is but rather that Memphis got so little in return for him (because Memphis wants to dump salary and start over).

West's game has improved each year and that cannot be entirely attributed to Paul.

 
At Saturday, May 03, 2008 9:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie


if somebody says something unfavorably about your favirote player you defend kobe the same way so you got no feet to stand on. you analyze kobe and t mac and dirk as fans not as analyst the rest of the players you analyze fine dont hate on the media because they dont like the same players you do. first time kobe should of really been mvp he got it this year those other years only ridicolous kobe fans thought he should be mvp.


west doesnt have bynum upside he has already peaked and playing his best basketball he is not going to get any better and he is not as good without cp3 reality is gasol is 18-22 points 8-10 rebounds thats what he is with or without kobe it makes no diffrence he made all nba third team and all star apperance without kobe there made 3 playoff apperances with 2 50 win seasons david west cannot do that as lead guy on that memphis team they would not win 35 games with him at the helm anyone who knows basketball knows that stop trying to uplift kobe by not giveing his supporting cast the due they deserve.

he scored 6ppg without paul 18ppg with paul withou paul his first two years he was a bust he played 3 years of college bynum came out of highschool plus phil jackson doesnt usually play rookies he played on a bad team he wasnt good enough to play paul came he got some time then all of a sudden he a player paul revived made his career revived peja and made chandler.

 
At Sunday, May 04, 2008 6:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i would take gasol over west still because he is a better passer alot better he is longer in his legth better rebounder and more versatile could impact game in more than one way west can only score and a desdant rebounder good at scoreing thats it plus chris paul makes the game easier for him and everybody on the hornets when tyson chandler and mo pete create there own shot let me know.

west game has improved every year paul been there and paul has improved putting more attention on him let paul get hurt and then lets see west as the number 1 guy and then well see the real david west when you get the attention gasol has alredy got and still won games.

the lakers win 47 without him right and they finsh 10th in west i know golden state is better talent the lakers play more together with bynum and gasol and odom and farmar and vuciciac off the bench you got a good team. not a great team kobe make them a great team they still a good team maybe not 47 43 wins is more likley.

 
At Monday, May 05, 2008 6:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I consistently apply the same standards and the same logic in all of my player evaluations; for whatever reason, you just happen to agree with some evaluations more than others. You are the only person who can explain why that is the case.

I have said all along that the MVP should go to the best, most complete player in the NBA. Shaq should have won the award in 2005 and Kobe should have won it in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Each year, various commentators keep changing the standards and coming up with different reasons/excuses to vote a certain way but I have been consistent. My perspective has absolutely nothing to do with being either a "fan" or a "hater"; Kobe is the best, most complete player in the NBA, period, and he has been for the past three years. There is something wrong with voters, writers, fans and anyone else who cannot see this. In 2006, Kobe received 20 first place MVP votes but 20 voters left him off of the ballot entirely. That clearly shows that there is a lot of bias in the voting process, because it is obvious that a player who is widely considered the best player in the league and who received 20 first place votes should not have been entirely left off of any ballots, let alone 20 of them. Those voters are the ones who are being "ridiculous," to use your word.

West is in his fifth season and he has improved every year of his career. You have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not he has peaked and all of the evidence suggests that you are wrong.

Gasol's numbers were dropping before he teamed up with Kobe. Since he became a Laker he is shooting close to .600 from the field, much better than he ever did before, and that is a direct result of all of the easy shots that he is getting because of the defensive attention that Kobe attracts. Gasol's per game numbers as a Laker are skewed because the small number of games includes a game in which he only played a couple minutes before spraining his ankle. Take that game out and then run the numbers. Also, in the first game versus Denver Gasol put up numbers that no Laker forward had since Worthy or Baylor because the Nuggets focused on trying to stop Kobe.

Saying that West was a bust is silly. He has improved every year of his career. Some guys take longer to adjust to the NBA than others. You are not analyzing West's game and his skill set; you just keep mindlessly repeating that West would not be anything without Paul but you cite no evidence to prove this. If you actually watched West play you would see that he is a mobile, multi-skilled big man.

 
At Monday, May 05, 2008 7:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Kobe had Gasol for a fourth of the season and Bynum for less than half of the season and he never had both guys at the same time. CP3's main guys have been healthy all year. I've covered all of this territory before so there is nothing more to add.

CP3 does not have to get hurt in order to evaluate West's game. West is a multi-skilled player who creates his own shot, rebounds, passes and defends. Even if Gasol is a little better than West that does not matter if the issue is evaluating supporting casts in terms of this year's MVP race because CP3 had West for the whole year; I'd rather have a whole year of West than a fraction of a year of Gasol and then the rest of the time divided between Kwame, Turiaf, etc. Your whole argument is such a joke--Kobe took a team with Kwame and Smush in the starting lineup to the playoffs two years in a row and you think that Kobe is only worth 10-15 wins. That makes no sense at all. Instead of talking about guys getting hurt or Mo Pete creating his shot or any other nonsense, why don't you let me know when Smush and Kwame play meaningful minutes again in the NBA, let alone start for a playoff team.

 

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