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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unstoppable: Kobe Drops 49 as Lakers Smash Nuggets, 122-107

Even in a career full of performances for the ages, this one stands out: Kobe Bryant scored 49 points on blistering 18-27 field goal shooting and he dished out 10 assists as his L.A. Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 122-107 to take a 2-0 lead in their first round playoff series. He shot 5-9 from three point range and 8-9 on his free throws, finishing one short of tying his playoff career-highs in both points and assists while becoming just the fourth player in the past 15 years to have at least 40 points and 10 assists in a playoff game (the others are Tracy McGrady, Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley). Bryant shot 10-15 from the field in the first half and 8-12 from the field in the second half, producing 20 first quarter points and then closing out the game with 19 fourth quarter points, all of which were scored in a remarkable four minute stretch during which the Lakers pushed their lead from 100-93 to 120-101. Bryant tied Elgin Baylor and Jerry West for the fifth best single game playoff scoring performance in Lakers history; Baylor holds the mark with 61 points, which was the NBA record for 24 years until Michael Jordan's famous 63 point game versus the Boston Celtics in 1986. Bryant also just missed tying Baylor's franchise record for points scored in one quarter of a playoff game (22).

Pau Gasol, fresh off of his spectacular game one performance, overcame a sluggish first half (four points on 1-5 field goal shooting) to finish with 18 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 6-11 from the field. Luke Walton (18 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and Derek Fisher (10 points) were the only other Lakers who scored in double figures. Foul trouble limited Lamar Odom to 22 minutes and he ended up with just four points, six assists and four rebounds. As usual, Allen Iverson (31 points, six assists) and Carmelo Anthony (23 points, five rebounds and one assist) led the way offensively for Denver but the Nuggets gave up at least 26 points in each quarter and allowed the Lakers to shoot .505 from the field, though a lot of that damage was obviously done by Bryant.

The Nuggets actually got off to a good start and they led 22-16 after Marcus Camby's tip in at the 3:59 mark of the first quarter. Then Bryant made a strong drive to the hoop from the left wing, splitting Kenyon Martin and Anthony and flipping the ball in with his right hand, the first two of 12 points that Bryant scored in the closing minutes of the quarter to propel the Lakers to a 33-32 lead. During a stretch that spanned the first and second quarters, Bryant made 10 straight field goals. Bryant scored 25 points in the first half and the Lakers led 59-49 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Bryant did not force the action, calmly accepting additional defensive attention and then distributing the ball to his teammates, racking up five assists and helping the Lakers maintain a 10 point edge, 89-79, going into the fourth quarter. He spent the first part of the fourth quarter in distribution mode as well before putting the game out of reach with his stunning 19 point outburst.

Bryant clearly took offense at the idea propagated by some people that Martin does a good job defending him. When TNT's Craig Sager asked Bryant at halftime what was the difference between being guarded by Martin and being guarded by J.R. Smith, Bryant replied that it did not matter. Martin and Smith both talked a lot of smack to Bryant. After Smith started yapping, Bryant drove right past him, scored and drew a foul from him. Bryant sank the free throw for his 49th point and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson then wisely took him out of the game since the outcome was decided. Bryant said of Smith, "Better learn not to talk to me. You shake the tree, a leopard's gonna fall out." Martin and Smith are two hotheaded players on a team full of guys who regularly lose their cool. Martin's tough guy persona is based more on bluster than anything else, as Tim Thomas pointed out years ago when he called him "fugazy." Martin has no back to the basket offensive game to speak of, he's a power forward who has never averaged 10 rpg in a season and he should be tithing a portion of his huge contract to Jason Kidd because Martin had his best years when Kidd was throwing him lob passes for easy scores. Martin's strategy for guarding Bryant in game one was to concede the jump shot and pray that Bryant (1) did not shoot well and (2) did not drive right past him; it worked for a half because Bryant missed shots that he normally makes but I wouldn't count on it working very often for the duration of this series. Smith is a good athlete but he is also too small, too slow and too weak to be anything but a speed bump as Bryant either elevates over him to shoot or simply drives right around him.

Bryant's 49 points are obviously going to be what most people focus on but his 10 assists are also noteworthy; he showcased a full repertoire of passes: no look dishes, bounce passes, lob passes, drive and kick passes to open shooters. Bryant is a highly skilled passer and that is probably the most underrated aspect of his game. Everyone knows that he can score and he annually makes the All-Defensive Team but for some reason his playmaking abilities are overlooked. Some people scoffed the first time I said this but I'll say it again: Bryant is a skilled enough passer to lead the league in assists. Of course, that will never happen because his greatest gift is as a scorer and because the Triangle Offense is not set up in such a fashion that one player will get a lot of assists, unlike some team's offenses that revolve around one player doing most of the distributing. Bryant annually leads the Lakers in assists and he was the primary playmaker on the three championship teams but the opportunity is not there for him to average 10-11 apg. Frankly, it would make no sense to turn an unguardable scorer like Bryant into a pass-first player.

The series shifts to Denver for two games now and it is rarely easy to win in the Mile High City. However, with Utah possibly heading toward a sweep of the injury-depleted Houston Rockets it would behoove the Lakers to close out this series as quickly as possible; the Lakers don't want to drag this thing out and then have to face a well rested Utah squad. The Nuggets' pattern is usually to play one really good game per series, so the Lakers have to be prepared for a dogfight in games three and four.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:13 AM

10 comments

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10 Comments:

At Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:12:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Denver doesnt play defense so how can anyone think that Bryant could be stopped in this series by anyone? He could average 45 in this series if he wanted but he doesnt need to because he finally has help. If Gasol wasnt there he would try to average that. Karl is a disgrace. At least try a double team. At least try to knock him down. Kleiza guarding him....please. George Karl should be fired after this series. The Nuggets dont deserve to be in the playoffs with the lack of effort that they display. Then they try to talk to Bryant which just adds fuel to the fire. JR guarding him....hes like 6'4". Karl knows better and that you have to play defense in the playoffs. But its not like you can coach defense and change your teams identity over night.

Martins defense in the first game didnt do anything. Bryant can score on anyone in the league. He can go by Martin any time he wants. Its a joke. When you are a great offensive player it doesnt matter who guards you. Thats why you have to attempt to doubleteam and try to let everyone else beat you. I know thats difficult with the triangle but you have no choice. Where is Camby?

 
At Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why didn't they use Najera more often? He's always a plus on the floor anyway, and he's probably the only Nugget who is consistent.

Wouldn't Martin better be off on Gasol, whos as "tough" as he is?

Why don't they post Melo on him to wear him down? Heck why doesn't Melo post every single possession? It's not like he's saving his energy for defense anyway.

I'm not saying that my suggestions will work, but they are probably better than what the Nuggs are doing right now.

I agree that the Lakers should try to finish this as quickly as possible. Better to play all-out for 4 games than to drag it on.

Z

 
At Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

kobe was the man last night he embarassed the nuggets he could of scored 70 if he was selfish but he wasnt he had ten assits in the game basically he played two good games in one. first half 28 points 2 asists 2nd half 21 points 8 asists combined 49 and 10. then skip bayless said kobe wasnt jordan mentally tough and that kobe was jealous of pau first game so he tried to prove a point wrong if he scored like 50 with no asists then you try to prove a point. kobe was trying to let chris pual no though on the flip im mvp not you paul had 32 and 17 and 35 and 10 and then everybody said he clearly mvp. kobe like jordan in 92 when people said that clyde drexler should have won the mvp he dropped 35 in the first half and ended any notion who mvp was i think kobe and paul should be co mvp like peyton manning and steve mcnair in 2003-2004 but thats just my opion.

one more thing it looks like carmelo anthony is new tracy mcgrady and kevin garnett, garnett lost first 7 series of his career mcgrady will shortly be 0-8 and now anthony will be 0-5 after this one he is 4-18 in his career in the playoffs. and never one more than one game in a series. remember that debate carmelo or lebron in there rookie year i wonder and who people would take now? charles barkley said he didnt know who would be better mike wilbon took carmelo for like 3 years. lebron been to finals and conference semifinals and carmelo can only win one game in the playoffs and people said they take him when it was apparent as rookie lebron was better. now i think one of these years carmelo might win 2 games in a series maybe his eighth or ninth year haha.

 
At Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:58:00 PM, Anonymous DHSmd said...

While I agree that it is in the Lakers' best interests to close this thing out as quickly as possible, Utah has nothing to do with it, from my perspective. I just believe that it is important for them to sustain their focus and the high level of play that goes with it.

On the other hand, it seems like every time a team gets an extended rest after a four game sweep, then has to wait for the conclusion of a hard-fought series, the "rested" team ends up coming in rusty, and loses game one.

So, on those grounds, I'm not worried.

Sure glad the Lakers have home court against Utah, though...

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 2:19:00 AM, Anonymous smokie said...

Great write up! I don't know if you're aware, but this blog was handing out NBA blog awards earlier today. I didn't know, otherwise I would have definitely cast a vote in support of 20secTO. Keep up the good work!

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 7:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

You ask some excellent questions but only George Karl knows the answers for sure :)

Najera is an energy guy who has bad knees, so I think that his effectiveness would diminish with increased minutes.

I think that Denver is relying on K Mart's length to bother Kobe. They don't really have a good option; Smith and Carter are too small and they don't want Iverson to get into foul trouble (not that he can guard Kobe anyway).

Melo is a good post player but he falls in love with the jumper.

It will be interesting to see if the Lakers have a letdown in Denver. I'm sure that the Nuggets will play better at home but the Lakers can still win if they don't have a letdown.

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 7:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DHSmd:

It seems like in the "rest versus rust" debate if the team wins then it was "rested" and if the team loses then it was "rusty." The great teams close out series as quickly as possible and don't worry about being rusty. Sweeping Denver would also send a statement because it is hard to sweep anybody; the Nuggets usually win a game, even when they play the Spurs.

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 7:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Smokie:

I appreciate your support but I don't think much about awards and I doubt that I am going to be receiving any from other bloggers. I heard about the popularity contest and even received a ballot but I did not vote because it was very predictable exactly who would win in each category; it's the "buddy-buddy" system in full effect. I spend more time analyzing the games and interviewing players and coaches than I do trying to join the "buddy-buddy" club. Again, though, I do appreciate your support and the support of everyone who reads my work.

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 8:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a guy with bad knees, Najera sure gets a lot of critical rebounds.

Why not guard Kobe with Carmelo? He's younger, stronger, probably just as fast. You're right in that they don't have many options, but playing Martin so far away from the basket let Gasol, Odom, and Walton own the paint. If Anthony gets in foul trouble, so be it. They still have scorers. But if they lose Camby because he ends up all alone in the paint, the Lakers will have layup drills.

Z

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 5:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

The point about Najera's knees is not that he can't move or jump but that if he plays too much then his body will break down. That's my theory, anyway, I haven't actually asked Karl about it. Even if his knees aren't the issue, the reality is that in elite competition (like the NBA) you can't take a guy who has been a role player all year (and all career) and suddenly give him heavy minutes.

I doubt that Melo has any interest whatsoever in trying to guard Kobe. Some Denver critics say that part of the team's problem is that Karl is not demanding enough of Melo.

 

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