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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kobe's 45 Points not Enough, Lakers Fall to Rockets, 95-93

Kobe Bryant scored 45 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter, but his L.A. Lakers fell 95-93 to the Houston Rockets after Shane Battier made a three pointer with less than three seconds left. Tracy McGrady led Houston with 30 points, adding six rebounds and four assists. Yao Ming had 25 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Mike James contributed 13 points, while Battier added 11 points before fouling out on the last play, wrapping up Bryant before he could attempt a tying three pointer; that forced Bryant to make the first free throw and intentionally miss the second, which Bryant did. Bryant grabbed the loose ball, but it was slapped away as time ran out. Houston's rookie power forward Luis Scola was largely invisible in his NBA debut, not attempting a shot and grabbing three rebounds in nine minutes. Like all FIBA players (and like NBA players who play FIBA ball for the first time), he must get used to the differences between FIBA and NBA officiating; he committed three fouls in his brief time on the court.

Bryant not only led the Lakers in scoring but he tied for the team lead in rebounds (eight), assists (four) and steals (four), picking up the slack for the injured Lamar Odom, the second best player on the squad. Derek Fisher (17 points on 6-9 shooting, four assists) was the only other Laker to reach double figures in points. Houston outrebounded L.A. 49-37, reinforcing a point that I made during the preseason: "Bryant may rue the 15-20 pounds that he lost over the summer because the Lakers are getting nothing from their frontcourt in terms of rebounding and defense; he may have to get seven rpg or more as a shooting guard in order to keep the Lakers from being completely dominated on the glass."

The Staples Center crowd serenaded Bryant with boos at the start of the game but his performance won them over and they were chanting "Kobe, Kobe" by the end of the game. Bryant can thank Coach Phil Jackson for those boos since they were no doubt largely in response to Jackson's assertion that Bryant is not fully committed to the team. Jackson has always known how to work an audience, while Bryant at times seems tone deaf in that regard; on Tuesday, though, he let his game do his talking. This was Bryant's 10th 40 point effort in his last 18 regular season games; the Lakers won seven of the previous nine such games as Bryant carried the team to a playoff berth last spring. No one could watch this game from opening tip to final buzzer and doubt Bryant's commitment to the team and to winning basketball games. That is not the same thing as saying that Bryant's performance was without flaws--far from it: he shot 13-32 from the field and 18-27 from the free throw line. He also wore a sleeve from his elbow to his wrist to keep his right (shooting) wrist warm; the wrist was noticeably stiff and balky and it clearly affected his game: he finished many of his drives to the hoop with his left hand in situations when one might have expected him to keep the ball in his right hand. Also, last year he shot .868 from the free throw line, so his career-high nine misses are highly unusual. If he were not committed would he even have played in this game, let alone drive to the hoop so frequently that he established a career-high in free throw attempts? Bryant also accepted the challenge of guarding McGrady for substantial portions of the game, while McGrady guarded Bryant much less frequently. McGrady ended up with good numbers but a lot of his points were not at Bryant's expense; for example, on one screen and roll play Bryant switched off but Jordan Farmar neglected to bump the cutting McGrady (as TNT's Doug Collins pointed out), enabling McGrady to convert a lob into an easy dunk.

Neither team scored until Bryant's layup at the 9:01 mark in the first quarter. He got off to a quick start, scoring 13 points in the period as the Lakers raced to a 25-16 lead. Houston trimmed that margin to 27-23 by the time Bryant took his first break at the 8:59 mark of the second quarter. When he returned to action roughly three minutes later, the score was tied. A few minutes after that, the Rockets took their first lead of the game and they went up by as much as four before Bryant made a couple great plays. First, he blocked a dunk attempt by Yao, then he dribbled up court and fed Fisher, who drained a three pointer. On the Lakers' next possession, Bryant drove baseline and converted a reverse layup. The score was 43-43 by halftime. Bryant had 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, shooting 6-16 from the field and 7-10 from the free throw line. TNT's Craig Sager asked him about his state of mind considering everything that is going on and Bryant replied, "I'm ready to play and represent this organization the way that it should be represented." Yao had 13 points and five rebounds, while McGrady had 10 points.

The Lakers got off to a very slow start in the third quarter, making just one field goal in the first 3:10. Meanwhile, McGrady got hot, scoring 14 points as Houston went up by as many as 12. Bryant did not guard McGrady exclusively during this time and one of McGrady's baskets came on a play so bizarre that Collins said he had never seen anything quite like it: the Lakers' Kwame Brown whiffed on a rebound, deflecting it to Luke Walton, who slapped the ball off of the backboard and into the hoop for two points (credited to McGrady because he was the closest Rocket to the play). That looked like just a funny blooper reel clip at the time--but it turned out to be the final margin of the game.

The fourth quarter was a war of attrition, as both teams again started off slowly, just like in the first quarter. Then, as Collins put it, Bryant started putting his head down and driving to the hoop, repeatedly drawing fouls; Bryant apparently realized that his jumper was not on, so he tried to find a different way to score. Bryant split three pairs of free throws but even though the three misses were unusual (and potentially costly in what turned out to be a close game), Collins noted that what Bryant was doing helped the team in two ways: it enabled the trailing Lakers to score with the clock stopped and it put Houston in the penalty with six minutes to go, meaning that every subsequent Houston foul of any Laker would result in free throws (that is one value of having a foul-drawing star that is not reflected in conventional box score statistics). Unfortunately for the Lakers, they started committing fouls, too, and with 1:36 left Houston led 92-80. Bryant scored six points in the next 16 seconds--a three point play followed by a three pointer--to put the Lakers right back in the game as he, Fisher and Luke Walton applied pressure defense that forced several Houston turnovers. Farmar scored on a layup, Bryant snared a defensive rebound and raced downcourt for a a layup and then Bryant drove to the hoop, drew a double-team and passed to Fisher for a jumper that tied the score at 92.

Naturally, Bryant guarded McGrady on Houston's last possession, keeping him from driving to the hoop. McGrady passed to Battier on the wing, who had inexplicably been left open by Walton. Battier's trey enabled the Rockets to escape with the win.

Some people will glance at the boxscore and say that Bryant shot the Lakers out of contention with his low field goal percentage. Certainly no one would suggest that he shot well but it is worth noting that Houston is considered one of the better teams in the West, while the Lakers are supposed to struggle to earn a playoff berth even with a healthy Odom. Another thing to consider is that the Lakers have no real choice other than to have Bryant shoulder a heavy scoring load; Jackson himself realized this in the second half of last season when he told Bryant to start shooting more. Nobody else on the current roster--other than Fisher--has proven that he can even be a consistent double-figure scorer in the NBA, let alone put up 20 or more points on anything remotely resembling a regular basis. That is why Bryant wants out of L.A. in the first place. He understands better than anyone that a team that relies on him to score as much as the Lakers do cannot win a title--but he also understands that if he does not score 35-40 points then this team has little chance to win at all. Once Bryant's wrist heals, his field goal percentage will go back to the .450-.460 range and he will again shoot better than .850 from the free throw line but Bryant faces a long season of having to author superhuman performances just to make the playoffs and lose in the first round.

Asked after the game what he thought of the fans' booing, Bryant replied, "I understand where they're coming from. They didn't really understand the whole situation because I'm keeping my mouth shut like I should." While some of Bryant's shots were off target on this night, that one--directed toward Coach Phil Jackson and Owner Jerry Buss--hit the bullseye. Bryant was roundly criticized months ago for his one day of marathon radio appearances--after the Lakers' season was over--in which he offered seemingly contradictory statements about whether or not he wanted to be traded. Then he met with Buss and the two agreed that in the future such matters should be handled privately. Bryant kept his mouth shut after that and all of the drama and controversy died down until Buss blurted that he is willing to trade Bryant and then Jackson publicly questioned Bryant's commitment, an assertion that was refuted by Bryant's 43 minutes of work--more than any other player on either team--on Tuesday. Why exactly are Buss and Jackson's utterances being held against Bryant? Magic Johnson, a Lakers executive who also offers commentary on TNT, suggested that the Lakers feel betrayed by Bryant because they stood behind him during various situations over the years--but shouldn't Bryant also feel betrayed by his owner, his coach and, most importantly, a management team that has completely and utterly failed to upgrade the roster for several seasons?

Refusing to add more fuel to the fire, Bryant offered the only sensible statement that has been made in recent days about this whole ongoing drama: "The business side of it should remain behind closed doors."

posted by David Friedman @ 5:00 AM



At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 6:56:00 AM, Blogger John said...

No points for SCOLA, but the again


16 for MANU

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 11:10:00 AM, Blogger element313 said...

your hero misses 28 shots (incl the 9 FTs) in a loss on his home court, and you hale the performance

would be funny, if it werent so stale by now

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 1:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

He's not my "hero" and I didn't "hale" (sic) anything. I analyzed the game. I mentioned the missed shots and I mentioned the good things that Bryant did as well. When a shooting guard defends the other team's top player and leads his squad in rebounds, assists and steals in addition to scoring (and while playing with an injured wrist) it makes no sense to question his commitment. My point is that Bryant is committed to playing well and winning, not that he played flawlessly, which he obviously didn't. On the other hand, anyone who thinks that the Lakers would have had a better chance of winning if Kobe had shot less is deluding himself. They would have had a better chance of winning if he had made more, of course, but that just shows how dependent they are on him to carry the team.

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 3:36:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

hes not committed to winning or he would have went into the office and said he wanted Shaquille to stay. but thats been discussed to many times and Bryant doesnt have any influence on decisions.

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 6:10:00 PM, Blogger element313 said...

you're never objective about him -- always the glass is half full of pro-Kobe stuff

bottom line: he's a good player, but a drama queen

and he's only a shooting guard. outside of MJ -- who played with Pip and had Grant & then Rodman for rebounds -- shooting guards dont win you titles

big men win titles: Olajuwon, Duncan, Shaq

even Shaq 06 took up space in the lane on defense & shot a high % from the field (and you could take him out last minutes for bad FT shooting)

Kobe hasnt even won a playoff series on his own... shooting guards generally are less valuable than big men

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 6:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


kobe didnt play well for sure but he did play hard in the game and kobe played okay. he has too take better shots at times though some of the shots were forced shots for real. but kobe is one of the most dangerous players under two minutes i ever seen it was 92-80 and then he started hitting shots to only lose by two i was like wow for real that guy is dangerous in late game situations for real.

At Thursday, November 01, 2007 9:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are forgetting a couple details: Shaq demanded to be traded and Buss has said more than once that Kobe had nothing to do with the Lakers' decision. Even Shaq has said that he believes that

At Thursday, November 01, 2007 9:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How was the glass "half-full"? I discussed the "full" and the "empty" aspects of his performance. He had an excellent floor game and a poor shooting game. There is no reason to doubt his commitment or effort based on how he played in this game. If he had shot his usual percentage the Lakers would have probably won. It is very unlikely that the Lakers would have gotten to within two points if Kobe had not been that aggressive offensively--even though he missed a lot of shots--because they would not have gotten into the bonus as quickly and because the other players on the team are not able to step into that void and drastically increase their FGAs.

I'd like to know when Shaq--or anybody else--won a playoff series on his own. I've never seen one guy playing against five; there always are four other guys out there and on winning teams usually at least two or three of them aren't stiffs. Shaq won three titles with Kobe and one with Wade, who was the Finals MVP. Shaq has been swept out of the playoffs a bunch of times (even with Kobe). I don't question Shaq's greatness but you need a 1-2 punch--as he himself used to describe the Shaq-Kobe duo--to win. Whether you sign the big man first or the perimeter player first, neither one is going to go far without the other one. Great big men are harder to find but there are also less roster spots for them: one center and one pf per team, compared to three perimeter positions (and a lot of PFs are glorified small forwards now).

Shooting guards are less valuable than big men in general but Kobe's skill set makes him a unique case. If his value is not as high as a big man's it is awfully close--and there is not another shooting guard in the league who plays consistently at the level that he does.

I believe that you once suggested that Ray Allen is as good (or almost as good) as Kobe. I'm not sure where you stand on KG but if KG is truly an MVP level player and Ray Allen is as good as Kobe then the Celtics--who of course have a third All-Star in Paul Pierce--should roll to this year's title by your way of thinking.

At Thursday, November 01, 2007 5:58:00 PM, Blogger element313 said...

"I believe that you once suggested that Ray Allen is as good (or almost as good) as Kobe. I'm not sure where you stand on KG but if KG is truly an MVP level player and Ray Allen is as good as Kobe then the Celtics--who of course have a third All-Star in Paul Pierce--should roll to this year's title by your way of thinking."

big flaws in your statement:
1) show me what I said about Ray ... it was probably that in his prime, he could've won titles with Shaq... i stand by that

2) who ever said KG (probably past his prime) belongs in same class as Shaq, Duncan, and Olajuwon in or near their primes (except SHq 06) ...? not me

At Friday, November 02, 2007 12:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


if shaq didnt win his fourth title i dont know if kobe would have demanded to be traded i have to say for real. kobe played not very good overall first game just like lebron didnt 13-32 is not good at all. i agree with alnativiews he a great player just made alot of mistakes in career one of the bigger ones was letting shaq go four years ago he would be a clipper or bull right now if shaq would of stayed with lakers he wasnt signing if shaq came back because he wanteed to be the man and prove he could win title like jordan but he not the GOD even if he had pippen and rodman.

At Friday, November 02, 2007 8:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I could not recall exactly how you phrased your Kobe-Allen comparison and I don't know of a way to search through the comments to find it; that is why I prefaced my comment with "I believe." Is your contention that Allen was not as good as Kobe but good enough that Shaq could have won titles with him? Or are you saying that Allen, in his prime (which should still be going on now), is/was as good as Kobe?

If Allen is still in his prime--he averaged a career-high in points last year but missed a lot of games due to injury--and KG is a legit MVP level player (whether or not he is as good as Shaq) and the Celtics have a third All-Star (which the Shaq-Kobe Lakers never had unless you count the past his prime Glen Rice) then why should they not win the NBA title, based on your reasoning about a great big man being able to win a title with any number of interchangeable All-Star/All-NBA level guards? I don't believe that Shaq would have led the Lakers to three titles if you sub in Allen (or other All-Stars of that era) for Kobe. Kobe was an MVP caliber player who was on the All-NBA and All-Defensive Team and no other guard in the league at that time had that kind of game.

I find it interesting that you call KG past his prime. MJ, Dr. J and Kareem are three players who won MVPs at the same age or older than KG is now. I don't think that KG belongs in that class but people who think of KG as an all-time great--I'm not lumping you in with them--should not be using age as an excuse for him this year. He's not that old and he has not had any serious injuries.

At Friday, November 02, 2007 8:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe had nothing to do with Shaq being traded. Buss, Jackson, Kobe and Shaq have all said that, so please give it a rest.

I'd take 13-32 plus the rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in a close game over LeBron's stat line in a blowout loss. I'm still waiting for you to say that LeBron quit because he hardly took any shots in the first half or that LeBron was padding his stats by scoring late in the game when the result was decided (I don't believe either of those things but that is how you described Kobe's performance against the Suns in 2006).

Kobe stayed in L.A. because Buss pledged to build a team around him, not because Kobe thought that he could win a title by himself--and he asked to be traded because several years have passed and Buss has not done what he promised to do.

At Friday, November 02, 2007 1:07:00 PM, Blogger element313 said...

" Is your contention that Allen was not as good as Kobe but good enough that Shaq could have won titles with him? "

Yes. Obviously, if you had no other stars, youd take kobe over allen. kobe is more talented. but allen makes less money and is more of a team player, so the difference between the two of them isnt necessarily as big as you might think... but obviously kobe is better

as for KG, I dont know that he is dominant enough in the lane. to me he is a PF and not a C; whereas Duncan can be seen as either one.

KG isnt as big or physical or strong as Duncan, Shaq, Olajuwon -- true centers

heres the thing: DUncan makes teh players around him better by clogging lane on D, and on offense by drawing attention down low. that's part of the reason why tony parker is winning NBA finals MVP award and ginobli as a star... a truly great player makes the people around him better

kobe is far less able to make his teammates better-- instead, he was best off with shaq who made HIM better (as a team player)

essentially, its almost like football, with the Guards as teh WR, and the Center as the QB. you need both, but without a QB (or C), it doesnt matter how good your WR (or shooting guard) is

At Friday, November 02, 2007 2:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with your sentiments about Duncan and KG.

Allen is not as good a rebounder, passer or defender as Kobe, nor can he create his own shot as well as Kobe does. His only edge over Kobe is as a pure shooter from three point range. The Lakers had a slightly older version of him in Glen Rice in 2000, when he was the third best player on the team behind Shaq and Kobe. That team would not have won the championship with another Allen/Rice-type player in Kobe's place, nor would the subsequent champions have won if you replaced Kobe with an Allen/Rice-type shooter.

Shaq and Kobe made each other better. More precisely, they each attracted so much defensive attention that it was difficult for the other team to concentrate its efforts entirely on them. Neither one can have as much team success without the other. Shaq won a fourth ring playing alongside Wade, a player of similar--but not equal--ability to Kobe; Wade is much more explosive than Allen and a much tougher guy to guard.

At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


he did not want to play with shaq anymore everybody knew that why he didnt stand up for him nor if they would of payed shaq the money he wouldn't of signed with the lakers thats why he was fooling with the clippers and bulls and didnt sign contract till shaq was moved for sure.

thats old news the people know the truth ill leave it at that 13 32 is not a good game at all really and he lost the ball alot as well clearly his wrist isnt healed how lebron quit in the first game of the year did he play 7 minutes and take no shots like kobe did vs the suns well then he didnt quit david.

kobe stayed in la because he knew shaq was gone and he wanted to prove to people he could lead a team on his own. organizations lie to players all the time it's not all about kobe all the time you have to be a more loyal player to people who have been loyal to you.

At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Most of what "everyone knows" comes from media reports that are often not true.

I don't think that Kobe quit in game seven in 2006, that LeBron quit in game seven in 2006 or that LeBron quit in the opener this year. My point is that if you are going to call Kobe a quitter based on how many shots he took in the third quarter of the game seven in 2006 then you have to say the same thing about LeBron. LeBron was almost invisible in the opener, so if shot attempts are your main criteria for calling someone a quitter then you must be consistent and say that LeBron quit. In short, you are wrong about Kobe quitting in 2006. Think about this: why would Kobe score 50 in game six, more than 20 in the first half of game seven and then suddenly decide to quit? That just makes no sense.

I think that the Lakers' loyalty to Kobe has been overstated. Kobe was never found guilty of any criminal conduct. What team would abandon an All-NBA player on the basis of scurrilous allegations? They had a lot invested in him, so their "loyalty" was also a matter of preserving their own investment. They have failed to upgrade the roster significantly since they traded Shaq.

You seem to be saying that it is OK for teams to lie but not for players to lie? Do you really believe that?


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