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Thursday, May 07, 2009

"He Can't Guard Me": Bryant Says It and Bryant Proves It

Kobe Bryant has apparently heard more than enough about Shane Battier's defensive prowess; Battier played good defense against Bryant in Houston's game one win over the Lakers and Bryant still scored 32 points with a solid .452 field goal percentage. In game two, Bryant's actions and words both spoke loudly as he poured in 40 points on 16-27 (.593) field goal shooting in a 111-98 Lakers victory; on several occasions, Bryant loudly proclaimed, "He can't guard me," eventually receiving a technical foul for taunting. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant became just the fifth player in NBA history to have at least one 40 point game in four straight postseasons; Michael Jordan had eight year (1985-92) and four year (1994-97) streaks, while George Mikan (1948-51), Elgin Baylor (1959-62) and Allen Iverson (1999-02) each had four year streaks.

Battier has a thick notebook detailing various statistical tendencies for Bryant but Battier admitted to TNT's Craig Sager, "He does pretty much everything better than anybody else. I can't stop him, I just have to make it difficult for him." Battier is a smart, hard working player and I respect how thoroughly he prepares but the whole story about him guarding Bryant has been overdone or at least the emphasis has been placed squarely in the wrong direction; the story has been spun that Battier does such a great job but that is actually burying the real lead, which is that this season Bryant consistently posted great numbers against Battier as the Lakers swept the season series with Houston 4-0. Battier certainly does his best to make Bryant work but in the end it comes down to Bryant making or missing shots; Battier cannot block Bryant's shot, nor can he really control where Bryant goes on the court: watching him guard Bryant is not like watching Bryant play defense for Team USA the past couple years, when Bryant was spinning around opposing guards, making them pick up their dribble and completely disrupting the other team's offensive flow. Battier has his stats and his theories--and he knows where his help defenders are--so he tries to send Bryant in certain directions but for the most part Bryant gets to his spots and takes the shots he wants to take.

Pau Gasol bounced back from his subpar performance in game one; in game two, he scored 22 points on 9-13 field goal shooting, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, blocked a game-high four shots and passed for four assists. Gasol must use his speed, quickness and shooting ability to outmaneuver Yao Ming, because Yao has the advantage in "trench warfare" if the game slows down and is played in a half court set. Derek Fisher scored 12 points on 4-7 field goal shooting and played better defense versus the speedy Aaron Brooks than he did in game one but Fisher missed the entire fourth quarter after being ejected for committing a flagrant two foul when he elbowed Luis Scola as Scola tried to set a screen. It is possible that the league office will suspend Fisher for game three. No other Lakers scored in double figures and five of the six reserves who played had negative plus/minus ratings. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson moved Lamar Odom into the starting lineup in place of Andrew Bynum; Odom scored just seven points on 2-7 field goal shooting, though he did contribute 11 rebounds and four assists, but Bynum had no points, one rebound and three fouls in nine ineffective minutes. After the game, TNT's Charles Barkley quipped that when people called Bynum the Lakers' "missing player" for their championship quest he did not know that Bynum really would be missing.

Ron Artest led the Rockets with 25 points and five assists but, like Fisher, he watched the end of the game from the locker room after being ejected. With 6:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, Artest was called for a loose ball foul as he and Bryant battled for a rebound. While boxing out the larger Artest, Bryant raised his right forearm/elbow and Artest reared back like he had been shot, complaining that Bryant had elbowed him in the throat. Watching the game on TV, the camera angle used prevents the viewer from actually seeing the elbow connect; you just see Bryant lift his arm as he is grappling with Artest and then you see Artest lean back and get whistled for a loose ball foul. Based on the angle that Bryant's arm was at, it seemed to me that his arm likely contacted Artest in the upper chest, not in the neck area. The referee had a much better angle than the TV camera and all he saw was a foul by Artest, who became incensed and ran over to Bryant--who was walking down court--to give him a piece of his mind. Bryant simply lifted his arms over his head and backed away and the referees immediately ejected Artest. It is absurd for anyone to suggest that Bryant would possibly be suspended merely for boxing out a larger player who fouled him; anyone who has played basketball knows that when you are boxing out a bigger player you have to get your forearm into his chest and try to use leverage to keep him at bay, because if you just put your lower body on him he can use his weight and strength to move you right under the basket, where the only rebound you will grab is the ball going through the net. After the game, Bryant said of Artest, "If you're going to be physical you have to expect players to be physical back." Artest is a matchup problem for the Lakers but he will likely "self check" himself during this series with some combination of poor shot selection and poor emotional control.

Yao Ming finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 26 foul plagued minutes. Carl Landry had 21 points and 10 rebounds off of the bench, nearly outscoring all of the Lakers' reserves combined.

Much like LeBron James set the early tone versus Atlanta on Tuesday night, Bryant came out firing in game two, making six of his first seven shots and scoring 13 points as the Lakers took a 29-16 lead. The Lakers were up 39-25 by the end of the first quarter, with Bryant contributing 15 points on 7-11 shooting. Predictably, the Lakers squandered more than half of that lead in barely two minutes as Bryant rested on the bench; a lineup consisting of Odom, Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown got outscored 12-4 before Bryant returned to action to try to restore order. I think that Bryant should wear a fireman's hat because every time he comes back into a game he has to put out fires that the bench players set. TNT's Doug Collins said of the Lakers' bench, "What was once a great strength is now a weakness." Even last year I was not convinced that the Laker reserves were quite as good as some people said that they were but no sensible person can dispute the truth that Collins spoke about the bench now being a weakness. Landry simply killed the Lakers in the second quarter and the Rockets eventually took the lead, though Bryant tied the score at 57 by hitting a three pointer just before halftime. Collins noted, "Kobe is going to share the ball...Somebody is going to have to start knocking some shots down to give him some space to work." Otherwise, the Rockets will be able to tilt their defense against Bryant much like the Celtics did in the 2008 Finals.

In game one, Bryant played all 24 second half minutes because Coach Jackson knew that he could not afford to take him out of a close game. This time, Bryant solved that problem by scoring 12 third quarter points and giving the Lakers an 84-74 cushion that enabled Jackson to rest him from the 1:03 mark of the third quarter until 8:53 remained in the game. After a sequence in which Bryant had to execute numerous dribble moves and fakes to get free, Collins commented about how hard Bryant was working and he added, "The fourth quarter should be Kobe time. He should not have to carry the team throughout." As Bryant scored 10 points in a little over five minutes, Collins said, "Kobe has thrown out the life jacket; he has thrown out the dinghy and said, 'Everybody get on board here. I'm not going to let us get overtaken by this Rockets team.'"

Things got really chippy down the stretch in the third quarter. It seemed to start after Odom blocked a Luis Scola shot and talked some smack to Scola. Later, Scola fouled Odom on a drive and pulled on his jersey, leading to some more comments by Odom. Then Luke Walton came over and said his piece. Walton, Odom and Scola each received technical fouls. On the next possession, Fisher committed his flagrant foul against Scola.

The histrionics did not ultimately favor either team. The Lakers maintained their lead with Bryant on the bench, a rarity for them in recent weeks. When Bryant returned to action, the Lakers were up 92-81. The Rockets still hung around even after the Artest ejection but then Bryant scored seven quick points to extend the margin to 104-90; his final bucket of the night came after he pump faked Battier, threw the ball off of the backboard, beat everyone to it and converted the layup, a move that we have seen in a few All-Star games but not usually in the playoffs.

In his postgame interview with TNT's Craig Sager, Bryant said, "We're being tested so this is when it's the most fun, to be honest with you, and we're looking forward to going up there." Sager asked Bryant, the 2008 MVP, about his reaction to LeBron James winning the 2009 MVP and Bryant replied, "I'm very happy for him, to be honest with you. He's put in a lot of work and he's very deserving of it." Collins concluded, "I think that those two guys being together the past couple summers (with Team USA), LeBron has learned so much from Kobe."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:51 AM

23 comments

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23 Comments:

At Thursday, May 07, 2009 9:26:00 AM, Blogger Tomislav said...

David:

Can you please review Rondo's assists? Like you did with Chris Paul. I doubt Rondo had 18 assists in Game 2 versus Orlando.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 11:44:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Why was it necessary for Kobe to go around yapping after every shot? What does the taunting accomplish? On top of that, much of it was directed at Shane Battier, a guy who never says anything confrontational. This wasn't a situation where a Ron Artest was talking trash. I wonder if Kobe realizes that it's things like this that cause many fans to consider him a self-absorbed jerk. And I'm saying this as a big Lakers fan.

I respect the demeanor of stars like Tim Duncan much more. He goes out on the court, handles his business, and doesn't need to rub anything in anyone's face. I understand that sometimes a guy is going to get excited, but one can still do that in a positive way. Think of Magic Johnson's constant high-fiving of teammates.


I'm not very happy about the Lakers getting confrontational either. Fisher's foul was totally unnecessary. The Lakers seem to be listening too much to media critiques about their "softness". They should realize that wanting to fight doesn't get rid of any "softness". It reminds me of how the Suns tried to prove they weren't "soft" against the Spurs when Stoudemire rushed onto the court. Of course, that didn't correct any of their real problems. Playing good defense for 48 minutes, rebounding, and maintaining discipline are what needs to be focused on.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 1:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent review. A couple of things:

1. You can see a frame by frame breakdown of Kobe's elbow to Artest here: http://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2009/5/7/867885/ron-artest-kobe-bryant-and-wayward

The only guy elbowing in the head was Artest.

2. Last week I saw Coach Mike Kzyzewski speak about the gold medal team. While he said Kidd, Wade and Kobe were the leaders and his key guys, coach said that LeBron told him that he intended to learn from every other player and soak up what they brought to the game. Coach felt that the maturation we see in Lebron comes from that experience.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 1:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tomislav:

What does that have to do with this post?

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 1:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I don't know that it was "necessary"; I'm simply writing about what Kobe said and did. I think that Kobe is tired of the way certain things are presented by the media and, right or wrong, that is his way of responding. Yelling "He can't guard me" is a lot milder than the trash talking that many other NBA players engage in, so if this makes some people think that Kobe is a jerk then those people really have selective hearing/viewing.

Fisher's foul did seem to come out of nowhere and I suspect that he will be suspended for one game. Other than that, though, I don't see a sign that the Lakers lost their cool. Artest is the one who went off half cocked even though he was the one who fouled Kobe.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 1:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I had not seen those additional angles when I wrote this post but, as I said, Kobe was merely trying to prevent Artest from pushing him under the basket. I'm not convinced that Kobe even fouled Artest, so any talk of Kobe being suspended is completely ridiculous and, therefore, not surprising coming from ESPN. Has any other outlet seriously raised that possibility other than ESPN? Barkley and Smith said that Kobe should not be suspended, though they did think he committed a (regular) foul.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 2:03:00 PM, Anonymous st said...

i agree with vednam, that was unnecessary, and just because the taunting was milder than what other nba players do, that doesn't make it right. The previous time, it was against ron artest, but that was okay because artest was trash talking too. In this case, shane battier was just playing defense.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 2:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does Jerry Crawford get to ref games in the playoffs? The players get frustrated because what is a non-call during stretches becomes a call later. The same action could be defensive foul, offensive foul or non call depending on the emotional feel of the game. Refs shoudl do their job by feel.

Like you said, Kobe yaps all game but Crawford waits to tee him up in the 4th. Either it was a Tech in the 1st quarter, or it wasn't in the 4th.

Or take the Lamar, Walton & Scola confrontation. Lamar and Scola walked away from each other after the foul- no whistle. Only after Luke stalked Scola did Crawford blow the whistle-- Only Luke was doing anything and only he deserved the T. But Crawford gave late offsetting techs to Scola and Lamar.

Or, if a post defender uses the arm-bar to push an offensive player, its a foul. But Yao uses his arm-bar push the defensive player fronting him 5 feet out of the post (all the refs missed that call).

Bring on Steve Javy, the best ref out there. Crawford should go to pasture.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:37:00 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

The reverse angle is on espn.com now.

It looks pretty clear Kobe connected with the chest (and Artest appears to try to sell it by flailing back).

The Fisher play is interesting though. I don't think it's possible for Fisher to have "de-cleated" Scola like that from such a short distance. Scola was still (otherwise it was a moving pick) and Fisher moved no more than two or three feet. Usually when someone gets hit and flies back like that it's when players are moving in opposite directions at a far enough distance to gain momentum. Neither of those things happened.

I came to two possible explanations.

1. Notice when Scola goes to set the screen he stops with his feet too far out in front of his body. Meaning his weight was already moving him back before he was even hit which made the hit appear worse than it was.

2. Scola "sold" the foul. Yes, he was hit hard, but not THAT hard.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 5:15:00 PM, Anonymous Jack Bauer said...

David,

I think Kobe deliberately targeted Artest with that elbow and Artest was more shocked than anything that somebody actually dared to elbow him. And nobody I've seen(besides Ben Wallace) dared to hit Artest. If you go back, not one player that Artest has guarded has dared to hit him or be physical with him.
I think Shane Battier is really corny with all his encyclopedia thing he uses to defend people. But i think Bruce Bowen(not 38yr O bowen) presents a much tougher challenge for Kobe than Battier does.
-------------------------------------
How come the NBA dont get on Scola's case for all the cheap shot he does? Do you think that Kobe get pissed or doesn't like Gasol for his lack of Physical play, because i saw Kobe scream at him more than once during the game where gasol let himself manhandled by the much smaller Landry.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 6:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Great point about ESPN driving the whole "Will Kobe be suspended" story. I thought that the story coming out of that game would be about Fisher's foul, but I guess that wasn't sexy enough.

 
At Thursday, May 07, 2009 9:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea what your problem with Battier is. What do you want him to do not study Bryant's every move? Is he wrong for studying "stats"? Battier has not said a boastful word about what he does, not one. He merely said "this is how I prepare and defend." The amount of preparation he does is commendable. He does the same thing for all his assignments and gets the most out of his limited(well relatively speaking) physical gifts.

I don't know if Kobe was "tired of hearing the media" since most basketball players claim that they "pay no attention to the media." I don't know if this would be his "way" since he wasn't running his mouth against Bowen a few years back.

"Selective hearing"? Vednam said that Kobe was yapping against Battier, the guy who never says anything confrontational. If he was yapping against Artest, then it would be completely understandable, a sound strategy even. He compared it with Duncan's behavior and concluded that running your mouth against a lesser player who has done nothing to you makes you a jerk.

Now if people were praising KG for getting down on all fours against a rookie, or trying to intimidate someone like Calderon, or getting all tough on someone like Anthony Peeler, then the "selective hearing" would apply, but a lot of people were turned off to KG's behavior, and rightly labeled it as a "jerky" antic.

Z

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 12:07:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

David, I know you are just writing about what Kobe said and did. No need to defend yourself. I'm not trying to be critical of anything you wrote.

I don't know the full extent of what Kobe said on the court and how mild or un-mild it was. All I'm saying is that I appreciate people who carry themselves with class and dignity. I felt like the constant taunting and yelling was beneath a player of Kobe's caliber.

It seems like the Lakers are trying very hard to convince people they aren't "soft". Scola and Odom exchange words and both get technicals. Fine. But Luke Walton has to step in and show the Lakers won't back down and picks up another technical. And that's still not enough. Derek Fisher has to knock Scola down. That's a big overreaction. Getting technicals and flagrant fouls and ejections while trying to prove how "tough" you are isn't how to shed the "soft" label. Playing better defense and being able to hold onto big leads is much more relevant.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ST:

I did not choose in this instance to editorialize about whether or not what Bryant did was "necessary"; I constructed this post around the idea that the dominant theme in this game was that Bryant wanted to state quite forcefully--in word and deed--that Battier cannot guard him. Whether Bryant's conduct is interpreted as shrewd gamesmanship or unsportsmanlike is a separate issue. During the telecast, Collins made the point that when a superstar has it going this infuses his teammates with confidence. Collins was not referring to the trash talk specifically but just the fact that Kobe was scoring at will. Perhaps Kobe needs to fire himself up that way to play at that level sometimes, much like MJ would use real or imagined slights to get himself going.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The league assigns refs to the playoffs based on how they graded out during the regular season. Joey (not Jerry) Crawford consistently grades out very highly but I share your reservations about him to some degree because he seems like a hothead who holds grudges (he threw out Tim Duncan once for simply sitting on the bench and laughing).

The offsetting techs may have related to something that was said that we viewers don't know about it but in general I think that you made some solid points.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Stephen:

Artest clearly flopped and he made up/imagined that he got hit in the throat.

Even with the reverse angles, I still am not convinced that Kobe committed a foul, let alone a flagrant foul. I interpret his arm movement to be his attempt to box out a bigger, stronger opponent--an opponent who had just been fouling him by making contact with Kobe's head and neck, which is why Artest was called for a foul in the first place. At worst, what Kobe did was make some contact with Artest after Artest already fouled him, so maybe Kobe deserved a technical foul for that (depending on when the whistle blew stopping play and signifying that Artest had fouled Bryant).

I think that what happened on the Fisher play is that when Fisher put some weight behind his elbow the top of his head connected with Scola's chin; that is what opened the cut on Fisher's head and I think that this contact, more so than the elbow to the midsection, is what sent Scola reeling, though he may have added some flopping elements, too.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack Bauer:

I agree that Kobe "deliberately targeted" Artest in the sense that Kobe reacted to Artest's foul by making it clear that he is not intimidated by Artest one bit. I agree that Artest was probably shocked that someone actually hit him.

I also agree that Bowen (in his prime) defended Kobe better than Battier. I think that Prince--at least a few years ago--defended Bryant better than anyone.

I think that at some level Kobe is disappointed in the lack of toughness that Gasol displays at times but I also think that Kobe respects Gasol's intelligence and overall skill set, so he tries to work with Gasol to help him play better.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack Bauer:

I agree that Kobe "deliberately targeted" Artest in the sense that Kobe reacted to Artest's foul by making it clear that he is not intimidated by Artest one bit. I agree that Artest was probably shocked that someone actually hit him.

I also agree that Bowen (in his prime) defended Kobe better than Battier. I think that Prince--at least a few years ago--defended Bryant better than anyone.

I think that at some level Kobe is disappointed in the lack of toughness that Gasol displays at times but I also think that Kobe respects Gasol's intelligence and overall skill set, so he tries to work with Gasol to help him play better.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I don't have any problem with Battier at all; in fact, I respect him a great deal and I think that is quite evident from the interview that I did with him this season. I think that the NYT article suggesting that Daryl Morey has found the secret formula to stop Kobe was more hype than substance regarding that particular issue, though it was well balanced and informative overall.

I suspect that Kobe is very familiar with the NYT article and that he will make a strong statement about it--with his play--during this series.

Screaming "He can't guard me" does not prove that Kobe is a jerk. I was not attacking Vednam but just indicating that anyone who would form a judgment about Kobe based on this one situation has "selective hearing" because he is discounting Kobe's overall conduct as well as the conduct of other players in heated games.

KG's behavior in this regard is much, much worse than Kobe's. Kobe is generally known as a player who goes about his business quietly and only speaks (in terms of trash talk) when he is spoken to first--like when Artest started up during the regular season game and Kobe responded by laughing and saying that Artest is a "comedian" or when Kobe warned J.R. Smith to be quiet during last year's playoffs because if you shake a tree a leopard might fall out. It is in that context that I am saying that Kobe is screaming at Battier not so much because of Battier's conduct but because this article dared to assert that Battier can guard Bryant; I think that Bryant will go to great lengths to refute that idea by the end of this series.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 9:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Perhaps what Kobe did is undignified in some way but, as I have said, he is trying--rightly or wrongly--to make a larger point. For whatever reason, Kobe is not the type to sit in a press conference and admit that he read an article or was affected by its contents but I think/speculate that this article got under his skin to some degree. Who knows, maybe that is why Morey collaborated with the author in the first place; that would explain Morey's laughable comment that Kobe is much easier to guard than LeBron, a sentiment that Morey's own team refuted by defending against LeBron much better than they defended against Kobe this season.

I agree with your other point that it seems like Fisher et. al overreacted to try to prove their toughness and that the Lakers would be better served to direct that energy toward improving their defense.

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 11:08:00 AM, Anonymous Jack Bauer said...

David,

What's the deal with people nowadays telling other people how they are supposed to act? whether this is classy or not classy enough? I watch ESPN and hear commentators say: "do it with class" or "act like you've been there before", I'm like are you kidding me? Since when did we start telling other people how to act? There's a difference between telling somebody you can't guard them and somebody like Garnett who looks he was deprived of an education or who thinks that the more expletive you say the harder you look.
@vednam
Like david said, Kobe wasn't talking trash to celebrate as much as that article which stated that Battier could stop kobe with his geeky scouting. Kobe was basically taunting the dude who wrote that NYTimes article and Michael Morey(Houston's GM).

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 11:22:00 AM, Anonymous st said...

i think this link sums up the artest-kobe incident pretty well

http://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2009/5/7/867885/ron-artest-kobe-bryant-and-wayward

 
At Friday, May 08, 2009 4:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ST:

That is a good link; someone else also mentioned it earlier in this comments section.

 

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