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Friday, June 05, 2009

Brilliant Bryant Shreds Magic as Lakers Roll, 100-75

"You look thirsty, you ain't getting no mercy, mercy/
And ain't no way that you can rehearse for me/
Murder I wrote, murder I wrote is what I figure...
When it comes to this I never smile."--L.L. Cool J, "How I'm Comin'"

Kobe Bryant may not be smiling but L.A. Lakers' fans are wearing ear to ear grins after Bryant led the Lakers to a 100-75 victory over the Orlando Magic in game one of the Finals by producing a nearly perfect game: 40 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals, two blocked shots, one turnover in 38 minutes. He singlehandedly outscored Orlando's three primary offensive weapons--Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu--and scored or assisted on 24 of the Lakers' 41 field goals; the entire Magic team made just 23 field goals. ABC commentator Jeff Van Gundy--who must have had his heart in his throat watching Bryant trash the team that his brother Stan coaches--declared, "You know how they say one man can't beat a team? I beg to differ. One man can beat a team. This guy has dominated each offensive possession." Bryant shot 16-34 from the field (.471), which is marginally better than his regular season field goal percentage (.467), but what matters most is that he shot 15-27 and did not have a single turnover in the game's first 34:46 as the Lakers built an 80-56 lead; when I say that Bryant was "nearly perfect" I am referring to his decision making and the control that he exerted over the game: Larry Bird once said that he did not play basketball to score a certain number of points or make every shot but rather for those moments when he took over the game and knew that he was controlling the outcome. That is what Bryant did in game one and this is very significant because game one winners overwhelmingly tend to eventually win the playoff series, as Bryant knows only too well: the last two times he and the Lakers went to the Finals they lost game one and then lost the series. However, Bryant also understands that even though history is on the Lakers' side this is still just one win and the Lakers must continue to play hard and execute at a high level or the Magic could win game two, seize homecourt advantage and gain the opportunity to win a championship by sweeping the middle three games in Orlando. A stern-faced Bryant declared in his postgame press conference that the best thing that the Lakers could do now is forget about this game and focus on taking care of business in game two and he added that he had already delivered that message to his teammates.

Bryant cracked a smile briefly when he said that his kids have been calling him "Grumpy" from the Seven Dwarves for the past week or so but then he looked serious again during the rest of the question and answer session. Bryant's visage has been getting a lot of attention recently but instead of focusing on how he looks it is more important to place his performance--not just in this game but in the playoffs overall--in proper historical context: Bryant joined Jerry West, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal as the only players to have a 40-8-8 game in the NBA Finals. This is the first time that Bryant scored 40 points in a Finals game but it is the 10th 40 point game of his playoff career and his fourth 40 point game of the 2009 playoffs, with the Lakers improving to 4-0 in those contests; the three previous 40 point games came in a must win game two versus Houston after the Lakers lost game one at home, game one versus Denver and game three at Denver to reclaim home court advantage in that series after the Lakers lost game two at home. Bryant is convincingly putting to rest the nonsense about the Lakers being better off when he shoots less frequently.

However, as Jeff Van Gundy noted, Bryant is not only a dominant scorer; he also is creating open shot opportunities for his teammates and the remarkable thing about how Bryant is handling those twin responsibilities is that this is the eighth time in 19 playoff games that Bryant has had one or fewer turnovers, including back to back games against Houston--the team that supposedly had used advanced basketball statistics to come up with the perfect game plan against him--in which he did not have a single turnover. Bryant had five other playoff games in which he only had two turnovers each. This is just incredible decision making/efficiency by a player whose team needs him to simultaneously fill the Michael Jordan scoring role and the Scottie Pippen playmaking role.

Bryant received help from his teammates but considering his deft passing and the way that he draws double teams it must be said that he is helping his teammates to help him: Bryant creates open shots for them and they knock those shots down. Pau Gasol had 16 points and eight rebounds and Lamar Odom produced 11 points and 14 rebounds off of the bench. Andrew Bynum had nine points and nine rebounds but, more significantly, he made his presence felt in the paint versus Dwight Howard. Bynum collected four fouls in 22 minutes but, as I said in my Finals preview, foul trouble is not a factor for Bynum as long as he is productive in the 15-20 mpg that the Lakers need for him to play. Derek Fisher and Luke Walton each had nine points and combined to shoot 8-11 from the field, a welcome sight for the Lakers considering how much both players had been struggling with their shooting strokes.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the worst of both worlds defensively, as Dwight Howard put up big numbers--culminating in a 40 point, 14 rebound outing in game six--and the Magic's three point shooters bombed away with impunity; in game one of the Finals, the Lakers had the best of both worlds, shutting down both Howard and the three point shooters. Mickael Pietrus led the Magic with 14 points but he shot just 5-13 from the field, a percentage that the Lakers can live with every game. Hedo Turkoglu had just 13 points on 3-11 field goal shooting. Eastern Conference Finals hero Rashard Lewis scored just eight points on 2-10 field goal shooting. Howard added 12 points and 15 rebounds but he shot just 1-6 from the field; the Lakers prevented him from getting good post position and fouled him whenever he seemed poised to dunk the ball. The Lakers largely used one on one coverage versus Howard--enabling them to stay at home on the three point shooters--though they did often send a defender toward Howard once he put the ball on the floor; you may recall that this is exactly the strategy that I said that the Cavs should have used in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In my Finals preview I wrote, "I don't think that the Magic will be able to contain the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll nearly as effectively as the Celtics did in the 2008 Finals. Even though the Magic won both meetings with the Lakers this season...the Magic struggled to prevent the Lakers from getting good, open shots out of that set, so look for the Lakers to feature it repeatedly." Early in the game the Lakers tenderized the Magic in the paint by posting up Bynum--who scored eight points in the first 6:30--but they took control of the game in the second and third quarters by repeatedly running the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll action (a Bryant-Bynum screen/roll also proved to be effective on a few occasions). Eventually the Magic are going to have to trap Bryant hard but that could lead to Bryant having 10-plus assists if his teammates make open shots.

Despite the strong start by Bynum, the Magic led 24-22 after the first quarter. Orlando's All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson returned to action for the first time since February, with mixed results: in his first stint he played well and helped the Magic to build a 33-28 lead early in the second quarter but in his second tour of duty later in the game he was not nearly as effective. Nelson finished with six points on 3-9 shooting plus four assists. It seems like he can hurt the Lakers with his passing in screen/roll situations but it may be too much to expect him to regain his shooting stroke in this series after being sidelined for so long.

Nelson and the Magic built their five point cushion with Bryant on the bench but when Bryant returned to action at the 8:32 mark of the second quarter the tide immediately turned: in less than five minutes, Bryant scored 10 points and had three assists as the Lakers went on a 19-6 run. Bryant then had 18 points in the third quarter as the Lakers turned the game into a rout.

Although a team's basic identity will not change during the course of a series, each game has a unique rhythm and vibe to it. Even if the Lakers continue to play good, sound defense it is extremely unlikely that they will again limit Howard to just one made field goal or hold the Magic to .299 field goal shooting, so the Lakers must continue to crash the boards--they enjoyed a 55-41 rebounding advantage--and execute their offense efficiently; their main edges in this series are Kobe Bryant and homecourt advantage, so it is important for them to be ready to win a tough game two before heading to Orlando: the worst mistake that the Lakers can make is to become overconfident and complacent because of the large game one victory margin.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:49 AM

18 comments

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18 Comments:

At Friday, June 05, 2009 3:57:00 AM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

When Kobe take 30 or more shots ...

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 4:46:00 AM, Anonymous jack B said...

David,
1.It was funny to see JOn barry and Michael Wilbon struggle to come up with an excuse as to why the Lakers won even if Kobe took more then 21 shots...
2.I wonder what the pundits(mainly espn writers) who shall be remained nameless will do if Kobe bryant's numbers for this series trumps Lebron James'previous series against the Magics.
3.Lakers bench: it is not as good as advertised. But Phil jackson's best coaching move was putting Trevor Ariza into the starting lineup. This guy has defensive skills to be on the 2nd or 3rd defensive team. It was refreshing to see him actually fight to screens to stay glued with Turkgolu.
4.Andrew Bynum: I think his defense on Dwight Howard was key in this game. I wonder how much better these Lakers would be if Andrew was 100 percent. If this kid can add a little nastiness in his game, He could be the best center in the NBA. Its amazing how people are saying that Greg Oden is better than him.
5.What do you make of David Stern apologizing for Lebron James? I thought that was real peculiar. Im surprised media heads havent got on him for it. It's also amazing that he went back on his decision and fined lebron 25K.
6.On Lebron being face of the League: Why do you think media is trying so hard to make us believe that Lebron is more marketable than Kobe? Forbes just released numbers and Kobe makes more money than Lebron in endorsements. Not only that, he had more press and TV hits than Lebron which made Kobe ranked 10 most powerful Celeb in the world(Lebron is ranked 19).
7.Last but not least, What do you make of the allegations that Dwayne Wade has done cocaine and used steroids? Remember how miraculous Wade's recovery was? of course we cant believe anything anybody say but where there's smoke, there's always fire.(remember how we doubted Jose Cansecao because of his character too?). Now word is Wade is suing him for 100 million dollars.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 5:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

I thought the exact same thing regarding Wilbon and Barry. I was going to mention them in the post but I have called out them, Abbott, Krolik, etc. so many times that unless (until) they say something new that is stupid I'd rather just focus on my observations; everyone knows my take on those guys already.

Kobe's overall numbers in this series will probably not quite match LeBron's averages but I think that Kobe will lead his team to the championship.

LeBron had a fantastic ECF and a great overall playoff run, one of the best in history; I am working on an article on that very subject right now. I don't feel like I have to bash one guy to praise the other. Kobe and LeBron are both great players. I thought that LeBron had a slightly better regular season than Kobe but if Kobe leads the Lakers to the championship then he will have had the better postseason and, ultimately, that is what matters most.

Although Odom--who gets starter's minutes even though he is nominally a bench player--and Walton played well you are right that the Lakers did not get a whole lot from their bench overall. Kobe dominated the game and he helped the other starters to get wide open shots. That said, all of the Lakers who got in the game participated in the good defensive effort.

Bynum is already pretty nasty, he just does not know how to be nasty without getting in foul trouble. This is the best game that he has played in a while.

During his Finals press conference, Commissioner Stern said that his comment about not fining LeBron was a throwaway line in a press conference that was about something else and upon further reflection he realized that he had made a mistake. LeBron violated an NBA rule and there is no doubt that he deserved the fine for not speaking to the media.

I don't really concern myself with who is the "face of the league" but it seems to me that Kobe and LeBron are both getting a lot of face time.

I have no comment about the Wade story because I have absolutely no way of knowing what the truth is; the only thing I will say is that if those same allegations were hurled at Bryant then a lot more negative media attention would be focused on Bryant than has been directed toward Wade. That Wade story is actually several months old and his reputation has taken nary a hit, while people still talk about "Colorado" years after all of the charges were dismissed. I don't think that Wade deserves to be smeared any more than Bryant does but my point is that there is obviously a double standard.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 6:33:00 AM, Anonymous Jack B. said...

@David,

yea i know. But on the Wade thing, The guy didn't try to get money from Wade or go to tabloids, He told Miami Head Coach that wade did cocaine and took steroids. My thing is why would Wade sue the guy now because if he didn't do that, it would have never been out in the media right now. my god, Havent athletes learn anything from Roger Clemens?

Yes Lebron's run in these playoffs were great but i dont think the supporting cast in Cleveland is as bad as the media pundits are saying. I think they are mostly mad because Orlando has made them look stupid by beating the Cavs. Because before all of them had them(cavs) winning the series pretty easily. If Lebron can develop a post-up game and improve his jumper, He'll be unstoppable.

on Ariza: You think Orlando regrets trading him?

on Fisher; Do you think Lakers will have Fisher come off the Bench next year to save his old legs. I think Shannon Brown at this point is more valuable to the Lakers than say Jordan Farmar who's game doens't match his ego or at least the game he's playing on the court.

On Sasha: Do you think lakers should look for a 2 guard in the offseason or let Sasha work his mental problems out?

Random Question: If you had to pick a PG between Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Who would you pick? I'd go with Deron Williams because you can't muscle him like Denver did to Cp3. Of course Chris Paul gets the better numbers but i think Williams is the better overall PG. of course the stat crunchers would disagree but i think D-will is a much more rounded PG.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 10:39:00 AM, Anonymous J said...

Nice post. Bynum did have a very good game, with 9 pts and 9 boards (3 offensive), and Ariza played quite well too, even if his box score numbers (apart from his +18, best after Kobe's +25, Fisher's [noisy] +22, and Odom's +21) were somewhat ordinary. Space Cadet certainly would not have played such defense on Hedo.

Speaking of the LeBron-Kobe debates, I thought the Dwight Howard vs Dwight Howard vitamin water commercial that aired at the start of halftime was *hilarious.* That guy is really funny and his personality just shines through, even in 30 seconds. I don't know which shoe company has Dwight signed up, but I hope there's some way Nike is able to do a commercial with a Dwight puppet. I know it's just Game 1, but it may be that the commercials are one of the highlights of this series, if the Lakers continue to dominate like this...(I don't see a repeat of the 2005 Spurs-Pistons series, where the first 3 or so games were all blowouts: if the Lakers blow out Orlando again in Game 2, I predict a sweep or at worst 4-1).

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

David,

I'm glad that you mentioned Kobe's relevant shooting performance.. the 15-27 part. I think often lost in statistics are the stretches of the game that really matter. Kobe wanted to end the game in the 3rd quarter and came out and did it. What Kobe really did in this game was post a 36-7-8 on 15-27 from the field and 6-6 from the line. In the fourth qtr, his stats (1-5 shooting) didn't matter. It looked like he was just feeling the energy and looking to go for 40 (and yes i know he doesn't play for stats - just wins, but it looked like he wanted to be remembered for this game).

I also really like LA's PnR strategy this series. in the WCF, Denver's quick bigs defended it extremely well and LA all but abandoned the play ( I thought Kobe was being a little tenative most of the time coming off the pick vs. DEN, FWIW).

But regardless, this is what makes LA so dangerous, as opposed to CLE who need LeBron penetrating to get a good shot. They have so many offensive weapons and strategies that they can simply choose the best one to exploit their advantages. Against DEN they discovered posting Kobe and Pau was the best plan, and now while they are still running some triangle, the PnR is taking advantage of Dwight's tenativeness and taking him out of the best part of his game which is weakside help D.

That said, I still think game 2 will be much closer, not because of any Laker letup, but I thought the Magic got a lot of good looks that didn't go down. And focusing on the relevant portion of the game - if they hit a few more in the 2nd qtr and early 3rd qtr, maybe the momentum changes a bit, they feel looser and LA doesn't run away with it.

I really feel by the way Kobe controlled every possession this game that this, along w/ game 6 last series and the 48-16 he put against Sacto in 01 were his best ever playoff performances.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 12:40:00 PM, Anonymous Mike Smrek said...

who is that woman in the Postgame conference who asked Jackson, and Lamar, and Gasol, whether they could feel Kobe coming on, or if they're suprised, etc? Its as if she writes for People or In Touch and only knows how to do the people and emotion angle.

When NBA TV cut back to its crew, even Ahmad Rashad noted, "that's 2 questions in a row about a guy who's not even on the podium." Jackson was very short with her.

van Gundy blasting the writer who asked about jitters was solid gold.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 2:29:00 PM, Anonymous Luis said...

Good comments, I agree on the silliness of Barry and Wilbon.

Still, the post is very Kobe-centric as usual. Kobe was spectacular on offense, but the defense on Howard by Gasol and Bynum was outstanding and was as important in stifling Orlando's offense. We previously saw Orlando triumph against shabby interior defense (Cleveland) and outstanding offense by one man (Lebron). Yesterday we saw the difference that good defense vs Howard can make.

Obviously good offense feeds into good defense and viceversa, but the view that the Lakers won almost exclusively because of Bryant is very incomplete in my opinion. With yesterday's defensive effort, even a "good" (rather than "all-time great") shooting guard would have given them the win.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 3:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

As I said, I don't know what the truth is regarding Wade so I have no comment about that story. This is an issue that I simply will not discuss here unless/until the story consists of facts, not rumors.

LeBron has a good supporting cast but that supporting cast did not play well versus Orlando--except for Delonte West.

Since the Magic made it to the Finals I doubt that they have many regrets.

The Lakers' decision regarding Vujacic will be impacted by salary cap space and what moves they make regarding Odom, Ariza, etc. I am more interested in analyzing this series than speculating about the offseason.

I'd take Paul, as I have mentioned in previous posts. Paul is more explosive and he has improved his shooting and his defense. D Will is great, too, but I would take Paul.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 3:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis:

I mentioned the Lakers' post defense--and the play of Bynum and Gasol--in the post.

The Lakers trailed 33-28 when Bryant was out and they looked dead in the water. "Coincidentally," they blew the Magic out as soon as Bryant reentered the game. Bryant outscored the Magic team in the third quarter. The idea that the Lakers could have won this game with an "average" shooting guard is ridiculous. The Lakers' biggest advantages are Bryant and homecourt. The Magic will play a lot better at home (and in game two, for that matter). Obviously, it takes a team to win a championship but Bryant is by far the most important member of this team. You may recall that just last season the Lakers had an excellent record in the first half with Bynum before the Gasol deal and then when Bynum got hurt and they brought in Gasol they kept right on rolling; the identity of the Lakers' big men is not nearly as important has having Kobe around to run the show. Since Kobe carried the Lakers to 45 wins with Smush and Kwame it would be far more accurate to say that the Lakers can win with Kobe and an "average" big man than to try to argue the reverse.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 3:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

I don't think that anyone has suggested that Radmanovic is better than Ariza. The truth is that if the Lakers had not been concerned about cutting costs they could retained the services of both players and then they could bring Radmanovic off the bench to shoot threes instead of Vujacic (I know that they play different positions but the Lakers could slide Ariza to the two and put Radmanovic at three for those few minutes that Kobe sits, instead of bringing in Vujacic).

Howard is an adidas guy, so don't expect to see him in an Nike puppets commercials.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 3:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

A major problem with basketball statistical analysis is that without watching the games you cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. Kobe's 15-27 shooting enabled the Lakers to build that huge lead. His 1-7 shooting after that was irrelevant to the outcome of the game but after this series is over some fool will crunch all of those numbers and try to rank Kobe's overall performance vis a vis other Finals performances--the same mistake that people made last year regarding Kobe's performance in a losing effort and the same mistake that the "stat gurus" often make in other situations as well. A scout or coach who watched game one understands that Bryant's decision making and execution in the screen/roll killed Orlando but a "stat guru" looks at the numbers and says that Kobe had an average shooting night.

The difference between Kobe and LeBron, which I have been saying for years, is that Kobe can consistently make the midrange jumper. This is why Kobe is virtually impossible to defend in the s/r set: he can pass, drive or shoot the midrange j and there is not a defense known to man that can simultaneously stop all three options. The best the defense can do is keep him out of the lane and pray that he has an off shooting night. That is why you keep hearing opponents (George Karl, Dwight Howard) mentioning Jesus and praying in their postgame press conferences. The only other option, which the Celtics used to good effect in the Finals, is to bang on Gasol until he is afraid to set a solid screen and then after Gasol has been rendered ineffective send five guys at Kobe and dare anyone else to make a play. Orlando does not have the personnel or mindset to play that way, though.

 
At Friday, June 05, 2009 4:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike Smrek:

I think that the woman to whom you are referring is Lisa Dillman from the L.A. Times.

Stan Van Gundy is rapidly moving into Popovich territory with his ability to smoothly and quickly dismiss ridiculous questions. It would have been great if Vincent Thomas from Slam had asked SVG the stupid question about the fans being Daniel Gibson's "support group" that he directed toward Mike Brown during the ECF; go back to my game five recap for the lowdown about what another reporter correctly labeled a "crackhead question."

Any reader who would like to conduct an interesting exercise should compare the questions that I ask--either in long form interviews or when I cover a game in person--to some of the questions that you hear in the pregame and postgame press conferences from the Finals. A followup to that exercise would be to compare my game recaps with the game recaps filed by the wire services, ESPN.com and the various beat writers. Some people get very sensitive when I start calling out incompetent writers/commentators by name--apparently forgetting that I have been criticized in the past few years by a bunch of hacks who don't even use their real and/or full names (basketbawful, knickerblogger, kellex, etc.)--so I encourage anyone who is so inclined to simply do the couple exercises mentioned above and draw your own conclusions.

 
At Saturday, June 06, 2009 2:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, i feel compelled to comment since this is the first time I've seen another Luis here and I don't want confusion because I don't share the view about the post being too Kobe-centric.

As a Lakers fan, I've enjoyed reading your take on my team and Kobe obviously is the engine that drives the team. He and his play should be the focal point of any Laker discussion.

He just has that crazed look in his eyes like this series belongs to him and it's going to be very difficult to keep from clutching the trophy when the dust settles.

As for the Magic, I can't imagine Nelson can be in true game shape. He certainly faded during Game 1. I think Game 2 will be much closer, as the Magic can't possibly miss so many 3s and Howard will certainly get more than one field goal, but I think the Lakers will maintain their intensity and defensive energy and come out with the win regardless.

Keep up the excellent work, David.

Luis

 
At Saturday, June 06, 2009 4:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis:

I was wondering if that was a different Luis, because the tone of his comment was not like your previous comments.

 
At Saturday, June 06, 2009 4:14:00 PM, Anonymous Luis said...

Different Luis here (the first one to comment on this post).

David, thank you for your answer. Obviously, I was not saying that Kobe is not the best player in the team -he clearly is, as you always (in my view excessively) underscore in your comments on Laker games.

What I was getting at is that the interior defense on Howard was a major part of what happened on Thursday, perhaps not on a par with Kobe´s outstanding performance but close. This would have been more than 5% of my summary of the game, but that´s just my opinion.

Relatedly, even an excellent performance by one player (Lebron) is not enough to win if the defense on Howard is below par, as we saw in the Cleveland-Orlando series.

And lastly, Gasol has been a superb complement for Bryant during the playoffs, at a much better level than in 2008. Obviously, Bryant is indispensable for the Lakers and a much better player than any of his teammates -but for all of that, he would certainly not be in the finals without two of the few skilled 7-footers in the NBA, competent on defense (at least in the playoffs) and -in the case of Gasol- probably among the 2/3 best passing big men in the NBA.

I like Kobe´s game as much as anyone, but the slighting of some of his teammates (particularly Gasol, to a lesser extent Bynum) is very unfair in my view. The arrival of Gasol has taken some pressure off Kobe offensively and has allowed him to do more for his team, as reflected both in the "tangibles" captured by stats and the intangibles that you rightly highlight. It has given the Lakers a big man who can play playoff defense -as shown not only this year but also last, with a very adequate defense on Kevin Garnett. This is playing a significant role in the Lakers´success though no one could tell reading your comments, almost exclusively centered on Bryant. To some extent, you are doing what you criticise others for doing -focusing on individual players instead on the team interaction that allows everyone (including Bryant) to excel.

(I hope you can accept a critical comment from a frequent reader)

 
At Saturday, June 06, 2009 4:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis:

I have no problem whatsoever with constructive criticism (and even semi-constructive criticism), as should be obvious by the fact that dissenting viewpoints can be found in the comments section.

I agree with most of what you said about Gasol's impact but I think that both in this post and in general I have fairly assessed Gasol's strengths and weaknesses. He is a very skilled player but he can be pushed around at times and he is temperamentally much more suited to being the number two guy than to being the number one guy. Gasol's efficiency--highlighted by his fg%--has soared while playing with Kobe. On the other hand, Kobe has proven that he can excel as option 1b (with Shaq), as option 1 with little help (2005-2007) and as option 1 with a very good number two option (2008-present).

I think that I made it quite clear in this post that the Lakers did an excellent job versus Howard. I noted that the Lakers used the strategy that I thought that the Cavs would use, namely single coverage initially followed by "digging" at him when he puts the ball on the floor. The turning point of the game came after Kobe returned in the second quarter and he had a hand in virtually every successful Lakers offensive possession from that point until the end of the third quarter, as Jeff Van Gundy noted during the telecast. He even said, as I quoted, that Kobe is defying the conventional wisdom that one man cannot beat a team, though I wonder if Van Gundy realizes that he was repeating almost word for word what Bobby Jones said about Julius Erving during the 1976 ABA Finals. After the game, Odom commented that Kobe not only excelled offensively but on defense as well. Considering what I saw with my own eyes plus what Van Gundy, Odom and others said during/after the game, I simply do not agree that this post was wrongly "Kobe-centric." Kobe was in fact central to the outcome of this game.

By the way, Ric Bucher made an excellent point on ESPN Radio: Gasol got off to a very slow start in game one, playing much like he did in the 2008 Finals versus Boston, and that could have really hurt the Lakers if Bynum had not stepped up in the first quarter.

Bynum helped to keep the game close early, as I noted in the post, and then Bryant carried the Lakers in the decisive second and third quarters. As I said in my series preview, I expect Bynum to live in foul trouble throughout this series but if he can give the Lakers 15-20 good minutes that will be sufficient.

 
At Saturday, June 06, 2009 8:36:00 PM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

Just from eyeballing Bynum's play in the first round and comparing it to his recent play, I think his knee has improved from about 60% to about 80%. He's still missing his explosive "ups" judging from his inability to dunk unless he's in perfect position, but his lateral movement has improved quite a bit.

Also, I love how the Laker bigs have been mixing up their defense on Howard, from Bynum backing off and letting Dwight face up, to Pau partially fronting him and playing him tight once he catches the ball, to Lamar fronting him whenever he takes him after a switch. I don't think Dwight's game is quite refined enough to overcome the Laker bigs over a seven-game series.

 

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