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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kobe Takes Over in the Fourth Quarter, Team USA Defeats Spain 118-107 to Claim Olympic Gold

Kobe Bryant had 13 points and two assists in the fourth quarter as Team USA survived a gritty, determined performance by Spain to win the gold medal game, 118-107. Bryant began his onslaught with 8:13 left in the game and Team USA clinging to a 91-89 lead; in the next 2:11 he scored five points and assisted on a Deron Williams three pointer and a Dwight Howard dunk. Later, Bryant drained two three pointers, including a four point play. Bryant finished with 20 points, a game-high six assists and two blocked shots in 27 minutes. Dwayne Wade scored a game-high 27 points on 9-12 field goal shooting and added a game-high four steals, providing a vital boost off of the bench, especially in the first half when he scored 21 points while Bryant and LeBron James were saddled with foul trouble. James contributed 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul scored 13 points each. Rudy Fernandez led Spain with 22 points, while Pau Gasol had 21 points and six rebounds. Juan Carlos Navarro scored 18 points and led Spain with four assists.

Due to the early foul trouble and the disjointed nature of this game, the on court point differential numbers that I have been tracking for Bryant, James, Anthony, Wade and Jason Kidd do not paint an entirely accurate picture of the ebb and flow of this game but let the record note that Team USA outscored Spain 93-68 when Wade was in the game, 73-71 when Bryant was in the game, 73-71 when James was in the game and 25-22 when Kidd was in the game; Spain outscored Team USA 49-38 when Anthony was in the game and Anthony spent the last 8:13 of the game on the bench. Wade certainly played a crucial role with his first half scoring when Bryant and James were on the bench and he did hit an important three pointer late in the game but Wade had just six second half points. Point blank, without Bryant stepping up in the fourth quarter Team USA would have lost, just like the two previous versions of Team USA that included James, Wade and Anthony--but did not include Bryant--lost.

Early in the game it did not look like Bryant would emerge as the hero and there was good reason to doubt whether or not Team USA would win. In my preview for this game I suggested that Team USA could get off to a big start if Bryant and James avoided foul trouble but instead they both got two quick fouls and had to head to the bench with Team USA trailing 13-9. The officiating in this game was very ragged--not biased, but ragged; both teams complained about calls at various times because there was absolutely no consistency: sometimes a player would be thrown to the floor and nothing would be called while other times the slightest contact drew a whistle. Bryant got his second foul when he contested a Navarro three pointer and the Spanish guard crumpled to the ground as if he had been shot. At one point, NBC commentator Doug Collins said, "This is a gold medal game. Are we going to watch free throw shooting or basketball?"

Navarro could make a training DVD featuring all of the running shots he hit in this game; his first one put Spain up 19-14, the biggest deficit that Team USA faced during the entire Olympics. Paul then converted a three point play but Spain quickly pushed the lead back to five, 22-17, before Team USA went on a 9-0 run that included another three point play by Paul, two pairs of free throws by Chris Bosh and Deron Williams respectively, a steal and reverse dunk by Wade and a layup by Tayshaun Prince. Team USA's depth really paid off during that stretch.

Team USA led 38-31 at the end of the first quarter; their defense broke down numerous times, perhaps due to Bryant and James being on the bench, but Team USA obviously found a lot of different ways to score. All of the starters returned to action at the start of the second quarter and it briefly looked like Team USA would break the game open. Marc Gasol committed an offensive foul by elbowing Anthony and then Bryant drained a three pointer to give Team USA a double digit lead for the first time. Howard then committed a hard foul on Pau Gasol, resulting in two free throws plus Spain retaining possession. Collins said, "Dwight Howard just had a mental lapse there in a couple ways. He lost Pau Gasol, their best player, defensively, and then he compounded it with the foul. This is where you have to have poise." That was a theme that Collins emphasized not only during this game but throughout the Olympics and poise was one of the three keys to victory that he listed for Team USA (the other two were "defense leads to offense" and "three point shooting--defending it and shooting it"). Spain could have turned Howard's gaffe into a five point play but instead Gasol missed both free throws and then Ricky Rubio's missed three pointer led to a fast break dunk by Bryant to put Team USA up 43-31. After another miss by Spain, Bryant went for the dagger three pointer but it wouldn't go down. Marc Gasol scored inside, followed by Bryant breaking down the defense and dishing to Anthony for a three pointer to make the score 46-33.

Team USA stretched the lead to 58-44 after back to back three pointers by Wade and James but Spain simply would not back down, answering with five quick points to get the margin below 10. Coach Mike Krzyzewski prudently sat Bryant and James down for the last few minutes of the half so that neither player would pick up his third foul and Team USA only led 69-61 at halftime. That kind of scoring may be fun for fans to watch but it is definitely not part of Team USA's defense-first game plan. Prior to the third quarter, Kidd told Collins that Krzyzewski's halftime directives were that Team USA had fouled too often and that they needed to play better containment defense on Spain's guards. Coach Krzyzewski also urged his players to relax.

Felipe Reyes hit a jumper to cut the lead to six at the start of the third quarter. Then Team USA had a series of horrible offensive possessions. Bryant shot an airball three pointer during which there seemed to be a lot of contact but no foul was called. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James each committed turnovers and then James missed a layup after a no look feed from Bryant. It was not clear if James' shot was blocked or if he just shot it off of the back of the rim; he complained that he was fouled on the play. Team USA did not score for 1:36 until Howard's put back increased the lead to 71-63 but Reyes answered with a layup. Bryant drove to the hoop, made a layup and was seemingly headed to the free throw line to complete a three point play but instead a late traveling call was issued, nullifying the basket. Bryant, who had landed on the floor after his shot, had a bemused look on his face after the call. Pau Gasol made a sweet left handed hook to pull Spain to within 71-67. Kidd fed Howard in the paint but Howard missed both free throws after he was fouled. Anthony tipped in the second miss and was fouled but he missed his free throw and Bryant received his third foul while trying to get the rebound.

Team USA's lead fluctuated between four and six points for most of the third quarter until James made a gorgeous touch pass to Bosh, who was fouled and made both free throws to put Team USA up 83-76. Then Team USA finally got a defensive stop and Bryant fed Wade, who split a pair of free throws after he was fouled. After Wade hit a turnaround jumper to make the score 86-76, Bryant and James went to the bench for the last couple minutes of the quarter. Navarro accounted for six quick points on two driving shots plus a lob to Pau Gasol for a score and Team USA was only up 91-82 going into the fourth quarter.

Throughout the Olympics, Collins made the point that in a close game the coaching staff will let you know who they trust by who they put on the floor. Team USA began the fourth quarter with a lineup consisting of Bryant, James, Anthony, Bosh and Deron Williams. Just like in the third quarter, Team USA got off to a slow start offensively and Spain used a quick 7-0 run in the first 1:47 to shave the deficit to just two points. After a timeout, Coach Krzyzewski replaced Anthony with Wade. With the game very much up for grabs, the last 8:13 became "Kobe time." I've said all along that the most important move USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made was adding Bryant to the roster because Bryant has set the tone defensively but down the stretch in the gold medal game Bryant took over offensively. First, he made a strong move to the hoop and hit a tough shot in the lane to make the score 93-89. After that play, Collins commented, "One of the things LeBron has said is that we know that there is one guy on this team who will take big shots and that's Kobe Bryant. That's a big shot coming out of the timeout to sort of stem Spain's run."

After Fernandez missed a three pointer, Bryant drove to the hoop, collapsed the defense and passed to a wide open Williams for a big three pointer. "That's a gigantic shot," Collins said. "Great play by Kobe Bryant. I thought that he was going to take the shot but instead the dribble kick (pass). That's what I always talk about--that's how you get those threes in rhythm."

After another Fernandez miss, Bryant again drove into the paint, collapsed the defense and made a great feed, this time to Howard for a dunk. That pushed Team USA's lead to 98-89 and Collins noted, "Who's been on every play? All three plays--Kobe Bryant. He hit the big shot and he's had two assists in this stretch." Fernandez answered with a three pointer but Bryant retaliated with a three pointer to reestablish a nine point bulge. The teams then traded misses before Fernandez drove to the hoop, dunked on Howard and made a free throw after Howard fouled him. Collins criticized Bryant for gambling for a steal on the play, saying that this turned Fernandez loose. There is some truth to what Collins said, but Howard could also have taken a different angle, cutting off Fernandez and making him pick up his dribble as opposed to ushering him to the hoop and then fouling him; Team USA's defense is built around ball pressure to force turnovers and that means that sometimes a guard will gamble and get beaten and in those situations there should be some kind of defensive rotation that forces the other team to at least make a couple passes to get an open shot. A guard going for a steal behind the three point line should not automatically result in a dunk and a three point play opportunity. As perennial All-Defensive Team member Bobby Jones once told me, "In the type of defense that we (the 76ers of the late 70s and early 80s) played, if one person gambled it was kind of like a spider web type of thing--the web stretches. If one guy goes, the other four sort of cheat and leave their men a little bit to help out in case the ball moves and a guy becomes open. You just keep rotating around. I don’t think it (going for steals or blocks) is selfish at all. I think that it’s good. You have to put pressure on the offense because shooters are so good. The offense has such an advantage because it can initiate what takes place, so as a defender you have got to try to instigate something to throw them off and make them do something they don’t want to do. The old term, 'pressure will bust the pipe,' is very true. It will make people change what they want to do."

Bryant missed a three pointer on the next possession and Collins criticized that decision as well, saying that the shot was from too far out. Collins had previously noted that Bryant is more comfortable shooting three pointers from NBA range than from the shorter FIBA three point line, so this critique seemed a little odd. That said, it would have been preferable for Bryant to drive and kick like he did on some of the earlier possessions.

Whatever one thinks of Bryant's defensive gamble or his missed three pointer, he proceeded to ice the game in the next couple minutes. First he leaped high in the air to deflect a pass away from Pau Gasol above the rim, nullifying what would have been an easy layup or dunk. Then, after Howard split a pair of free throws and Gasol scored four straight points to cut Team USA's lead to 104-99 with 3:34 left, Bryant drilled a three pointer, was fouled and made the free throw, coming full circle from his first quarter foul on Navarro's three point attempt. After Bryant made the three pointer he put his left index finger to his lips as if to say, "Shh. Don't say a word." Collins said, "Is there anybody in the NBA who loves these moments more than Kobe Bryant? He's been called upon to play defense but this could be a gigantic four point play. Not only that--Rudy Fernandez has just fouled out of the ball game." In one fell swoop, Bryant nearly doubled Team USA's lead and forced Spain's leading scorer to go to the bench. Before Bryant shot the free throw, Collins noted, "You think about it. The United States was up two, Coach K took that timeout. How many points has Kobe Bryant had his hands in? Remember he had 10 straight points where he either scored or had the assist."

Spain deserves a lot of credit because they responded to Bryant's dagger with five quick points before Wade hit a three pointer. Team USA led 111-105 with less than two minutes left. There has been a lot of speculation about who would shoot the ball for Team USA in a do or die late game situation; of course, that had never been an issue prior to this game but on this possession we found out that the answer to that question is Kobe Bryant. After his runner gave Team USA a 113-105 lead and basically clinched the gold medal, Collins concluded, "You see why Kobe Bryant's on this team--money under pressure."

Spain lost their composure in the last minute and Ricky Rubio was whistled for a technical foul, resulting in two free throws for Team USA. Collins said, "Interesting enough, Chris Paul is the best free throw shooter on the United States team. Kobe was shooting 44 percent going into this game but who wants to shoot these under pressure? Kobe said, 'I'm shooting these free throws.' If the United States holds on to win this game, Kobe Bryant took over this game when the lead was cut to two. That's why he's the MVP of the NBA and could be walking out of here with a gold medal to add to his three NBA championships."

Naturally, Bryant made both free throws and then Paul split a pair of free throws because he had been fouled prior to the technical foul. Coach Krzyzewski took Bryant out of the game, enabling Michael Redd to make his first appearance of the game. Team USA players took turns hugging each other and their coaches and then Bryant doused Coach Krzyzewski with some bottled water in a mini version of the Gatorade bath that winning football coaches receive. After the final buzzer, Team USA shook hands with the Spanish team, went over to the broadcast table to shake hands with Collins and play by play announcer Mike Breen and then they went to the center of the court and jumped around in unison like a college team celebrating an NCAA Tournament win. The pure joy that they obviously felt at that moment was wonderful to see. These players committed to a multi-year plan to bring the Olympic gold medal back to the United States and they deserve tremendous credit for doing just that.

After the game, Collins recalled what he said to Team USA when he spoke to the players in Las Vegas during their training camp: "There's a huge difference between being a winner and a champion. Once you're champions, you're champions together forever. No one can ever take it away from you. This moment the guys will relish the rest of their lives."

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:33 AM



At Sunday, August 24, 2008 9:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a terrific game. Every great player stepped up when it mattered.

Although he was the closer, defensively this was Bryant's weaker game. Both Rudy and Navarro scored well while he was guarding them.
Is true that he was out for some time due to foul trouble, but he couldn't stop them either when he was in. Navarro used screens while Rudy was all over the place.
Spanish "much touted perimeter" :) shoot at more than 50% in this game.

This has been the worst officiating I've ever seen in any big tournament. Not just this game, the whole tournament. You are right about the fouls, but also traveling calls (Navarro made his last bucket with 5 steps, and Paul has been just walking everytime he got the ball) and the 3-seconds-rule have been hardly enforced.

At Sunday, August 24, 2008 9:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that this was not Kobe's strongest game defensively overall but he did make some key defensive plays. I think that in general Team USA did not play as well defensively as they did in prior games but I also think that Spain is a very good team and that they deserve some credit for making good plays and tough shots; it's not just a matter of Team USA giving them things but rather Spain created some opportunities as well.

I try to say as little about officiating as possible in order to focus more on the players and the coaching strategies but I agree that the officiating was terrible. Like I said in the post, I don't think that it was biased; it was just bad, mainly because it was so inconsistent that the players were never sure what was a foul and what wasn't a foul.

At Sunday, August 24, 2008 2:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great re-cap, David. I thought the officiating was truly sub-par, but I thought the team did a great job of staying focused. 11 pt margin of victory is nothing to sneeze at. Buddy of mine said it due to a newfound solidarity between teammates. Maybe it was - both on and off the court www.redeemteamwork.com (love how the guys cut on each other)-- but Coach K has to get some props too.

At Sunday, August 24, 2008 5:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was this article about USA Basketball or Doug Collins. At times I muted the sound because of Doug Collins. Early in the first half, he stated that "this is not a game that one player is going to be able to take over." Yet when Kobe did take over the 4th quarter, he talked about how he had taken over the game without ever considering his previous comment. Great Game. Poor officiating and commentary!

At Sunday, August 24, 2008 6:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that Collins said/meant something a little different initially; Collins suggested that no one player should try to take over the game by doing something out of context of the offense. What Kobe did in the fourth quarter came within the flow of the game--his drive to make the score 93-89, the drive and kick to an open D Will for three and the drive and dish to Howard for the dunk. Collins' earlier comment was about players trying to take what some people call "hero shots," shots that are outside of the flow of the game (early in the shot clock, too high of a degree of difficulty, etc).

I quote from game analysts like Collins, Hubie Brown, Fran Fraschilla and Jeff Van Gundy in my game recaps because those guys look at the game from a coaches' perspective, not a fan's perspective. I don't agree with every single thing that they say but their observations and insights are always interesting.

I agree completely with you about the officiating in the gold medal game.

At Sunday, August 24, 2008 6:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Team USA does deserve a lot of credit for not being distracted by the officiating and for not using the early foul trouble of Kobe and LeBron as an excuse or crutch; Spain actually seemed to be more flustered by the officiating, even though the bad/inconsistent calls seemed to be pretty evenly distributed. I mean, Team USA's best two players were out of the game early and Marc Gasol once just threw Bosh to the ground and there was no call; on the other hand, Howard elbowed Pau Gasol in the face and Team USA got away with some other fouls/violations, too.

Coaching Team USA is a thankless job in the sense that when you win you were expected to win but when you lose you get a lot of blame/scorn. I think that Coach K did a very good job and he showed that he learned from some of his mistakes in 2006 (mainly not knowing the names/tendencies of Greece's players).

At Monday, August 25, 2008 3:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - Once again, I am amazed at your analysis. Are you hoping Kobe will invite you to a bbq at his house?

Dwyane Wade was clearly the best and most important player for the US in this game. Likewise, he was their best player in the tournament.

It's true Kobe scored a lot of points in the fourth quarter. So what? All the points count the same, it doesn't matter when they are scored. Kobe was 7-14 in the game, which is good when you count the three pointers and free throws, but very definitely not the best performance of the game.

The story of this game was Dwyane Wade and his first half heroics. Take out his last second full court heave at the end of the second quarter, and he went 8-8 in the first half. Imagine what the score would have been if he had gone 4-8 instead. He also made four three pointers and had four steals in the game.

Wade was the best player in the entire tournament. His TS% was over 70%, he had more steals than turnovers, he led the tournament in +/-, (killing Kobe in that respect), and played great defense.

I know you think Kobe is the best player in the world, but it seems to me that justifying that opinion drives a lot of your analysis these days.

Do you honestly think that Kobe is better than a healthy Dwyane Wade? Which guy put a team on his back and won an NBA championship? Which guy played first fiddle alongside Shaq in winning the title, and which guy was most definitely second fiddle? What statistics can you muster to support that contention?

The only thing Kobe has on Wade or Manu is durability. That's very important, no question, but when it comes to on court performance he is very definitely the third best in that group.

I don't know what you and Doug Collins were watching, but I saw things a very different way. To me it looked like, and the numbers back it up, that Kobe's entire M.O. in this tournament was to generate as much publicity for himself, while putting himself at as little risk as possible. He only took 12 free throws in the entire tournament. He took more 3 pt shots than 2 point shots and shot a worse percentage than he does in the NBA. That doesn't sound like a player who is playing smart of playing hard. He barely ventured into the paint in the entire tournament, letting others do the dirty work for him.

And do you really think that Kobe and Kidd were the difference? It's pretty clear what the difference was. We had the three best players in the NBA last year on the team, Paul, Howard, and James. We had two of the three best shooting guards in Wade and Kobe. And we had Chris Bosh coming off the bench and turning in the second best performance in the tournament.

The difference was overall talent. In 2004 Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson were our starting guards, right? That's two slightly above average NBA guards. Iverson shot 32% in the tournament. Wade, Lebron, Amare, and most of the young players simply weren't very good then. They are great now for sure, but back then only Wade had been an above average NBA performer. None of them were stars yet and that's how they played.

Anyway, we have been down this road before, but I just had to comment....


At Monday, August 25, 2008 6:36:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think you really minimized the role of other players on the USA team to give glory to Kobe. Kobe had a great fourth quarter, I think he took to many ill advised threes, but of his five three point shots in the fourth he made 2 of them. He wasn't really playing much of a team game, but he got hot at the right time, he almost had his hero moment wiped out when spain came right back at him, and he subsequently missed another ill advised hero 3 point shot. I know he was trying to ice the game over, but it was Wade's 3 not Kobe's 2 that put the ice on this bad boy. Plus, the team collectively kept the pressure up, this isn't a one man sport. I am glad Kobe was on the team, and his kickout to D-Will for three was a perfect play. His 3 pointer that turned to a four point play was well within the context of the offense (Assisted by D-Wade) and an awesome awesome shot. In all he wnet 4 for 3 in the fourth quarter had he played within the offense he would have still had the killer shot, and he would have gone 3 for 4. I still take Lebron and Wade over Kobe any day, they truly make their teams better, it was big of Lebron to give up the assist to ice the game. He was also the leader of this team.

At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Bill Russell, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to play winning basketball, once noted that it is not just how many points you score but when you score them that matters. Obviously, in the final boxscore every point counts the same, whether it was scored in the first minute or the last minute, but people who understand winning basketball realize that it takes a different skill set and a different mentality to score under pressure. Larry Bird once said that everyone will take the last shot if the score is tied but only a few people will take that shot if their team is trailing.

As an extreme example to make this point, do you understand that in the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament there was a difference between the points scored by Bryant and James when the games were up for grabs versus the points scored by Michael Redd and various bench players in the fourth quarters of blowouts? The same principle applies to the fourth quarter of the game versus Spain; Team USA's offense was flowing in the first half and a lot of players could (and did) score at that time. When Kobe made the runner to push the lead to 93-89 Team USA had been on the wrong end of a 7-0 run. Without Kobe, that game would have ended in the same disappointment and frustration that recent Team USA squads experienced in FIBA medal round play.

Wade had a fantastic tournament and I have given him all due credit in my game recaps. I also noted that he played at a similar level in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, when Team USA settled for bronze. Team USA led Greece early in a medal round game and LeBron was even heard saying on the bench, "They don't know what to do"--but when Greece made a huge second quarter run neither Wade, nor James nor Melo nor anyone else knew how to step up and stem the tide offensively or defensively. This year's version of Team USA had two similar moments, one in the Argentina game and an even more critical one in the Spain game. In both instances, Kobe stepped to the forefront (Kidd also stepped up in the Argentina game with his passing, particularly in the half court offense).

Kidd did not have as critical of an on-court role in the Olympics as I expected but keep in mind that this gold medal was the culmination of a multi-year project. Last year, Kidd was the USA Basketball Men's Player of the Year as Team USA went 10-0 in the FIBA Americas tournament to qualify for the Olympics. Kidd has played an important role in the revitalization of USA Basketball.

The main weaknesses of previous versions of Team USA were leadership and defense, particularly on the perimeter; Kobe and Kidd filled both of those voids. While other "experts" bemoaned a lack of shooters or big men, I consistently and accurately predicted exactly how and why this team would win.

Of course, I don't for one minute expect that anyone who is wedded to WoW's numbers would acknowledge this in any way.

To answer your question, Kobe has proven over the course of his career that he is a better shooter, passer, defender and all-around player than Wade. Wade is a more powerfully built player who has an edge on Kobe in terms of bulling his way to the hoop. Kobe is also more durable and that is not of slight importance.

To use your phrase, Kobe "put his team on his back" and carried the Lakers to the top seed in the West and playoff series victories over the previous year's Western Conference Finalists. Although the Dallas team that Wade's Heat defeated in the Finals had a very good record those Mavs were not the defensive juggernaut that last year's Boston team was, nor did the Mavs have three future HoF players.

I don't know or care about "publicity" but I wonder how you could possibly know that Kobe was trying to generate more publicity for himself than other Team USA players. It seems to me that LeBron is the one who spoke about learning Mandarin and LeBron was the one who was in ads with Yao Ming. Kobe was the one who showed up first each morning in the weight room and on the practice court (I know that because all of the coaches and players said so).

If you really think that Kobe was no better than the fourth best player in the NBA last year behind Paul, Howard and James then you are too far gone into the woods of WoW for any of what I am saying to make a difference for you. Kobe was the best player in the NBA last season--not by a lot, but by a small margin over LeBron. Paul, KG and Howard were the three next best players.

At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In my "report card" for Team USA's pre-Olympic tour I gave LeBron, Wade and Kobe "A's." I have not minimized LeBron and Wade's contributions at all.

It is funny that you say that Kobe "did not play much of a team game" and yet he led Team USA in assists in the gold medal game.

LeBron and Wade are great players but it is silly to suggest that Kobe does not make his teammates better. Perhaps you should examine Pau Gasol's field goal percentage prior to coming to the Lakers.

At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I usually ignore ad hominem remarks and flippant comments such as your reference to Kobe and barbecuing but there is a larger issue/perception that I would like to address, namely that I apply different evaluation standards to Kobe or falsely elevate him over other players.

I evaluate players based on their skill sets, while making allowances for certain players who have skill set limitations but are very dominant in the paint (Shaq, Dwight Howard, etc.). I apply the same approach to all players.

Let me remind you that I have repeatedly stated that Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time. No one accuses me of wanting to go barbecuing with him. I say this about Duncan because--other than free throw shooting--Duncan's game has no weaknesses and the things that he does well outweigh his free throw shooting issues (as was the case with Wilt and Russell, whose free throw problems were even worse). By the same token, I say that Kobe is currently the best player in the NBA because he has no skill set weaknesses.

As for LeBron, last year during the NBA Finals I wrote an article for NBCSports.com describing what I called his "accelerated growth curve" (NBCSports messed up their older links but you can find a link to a reprint of that article in the right hand sidebar of the main page of 20 Second Timeout). While researching that piece I spoke with some prominent NBA insiders to get their take on my premise, namely that James' growth curve is unparalleled in NBA history. For anyone to suggest that I would somehow wrongly denigrate LeBron's game to elevate Kobe is ridiculous.

A very interesting exchange took place when I interviewed Ron Harper, who was then an assistant coach with Detroit. I asked him various questions about LeBron and did not bring up Kobe's name once. Harper looked at me quizzically and asked rhetorically if LeBron is the best player in the NBA. If I were trying to elevate Kobe then I could have done what a lot of writers do and framed a question in such a way to lead him toward saying Kobe. Instead, I did not offer my opinion and simply asked him who he thought the best player in the NBA was and this was his unhesitating reply:

"Kobe is the best player in the game, period. There is not a player who comes close to doing what he does on the floor. He wants to guard the best ball players, he wants to take the hardest jump shots, and he wants to do the things he wants to do to win the ball game. There is not a player in the NBA who comes close to doing what he does."

So, you and anyone else are free to suggest that I focus too much on Kobe or "overpraise" him (as one commenter here likes to say) but I have spoken to enough NBA GMs, coaches, players and scouts to know that they see the game much differently than fans who are blinded by partisan loyalties and numbers guys who think that a spreadsheet contains all the answers; stats are an analytical tool, not an idol to be blindly worshiped.

At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

David, I really do appreciate the fact that you post a comment to defend your position.

Saying that, for the most part I am with Owen.

Without Wade, we could have easily been trailing to Spain going to halftime. And all of Kobe's ill advised 3's would have had us trailing going into the fourth quarter.

The way I see it: Wade was the one responsible for our double digit lead throughout the game. Sure Kobe hit several big shots to help win the game but in my opinion he is the reason it was a close game to begin with. His Defense with Navarro AND Fernandez was atrocious. He started jacking unnecessary "hero" threes that were early in the shot clock and definitely not in the "rhythm" of the offense, which let Spain back in the game. I am not a Kobe hater I am just calling it how I see it. (I actually live in LA) When Lebron takes 9 shots (makes 6), Wade takes 12 shots (makes 9) why is everyone obsessed with someone taking 14 but only making 7.

Finally, I was proud of Kobe when he decided to hang his hat on his Defense for the Olympics but during the Final game against Spain he definitely abandoned his plan. And let's not forget Defense and Rebounding wins Championships. Just ask the Spurs, Pistons, and Celtics. Give the D Lebron, Wade, Howard, Bosh played more credit.

At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 5:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not minimizing Wade's substantial contributions, both in the Spain game and overall, but with a little over 8 minutes to go the game was essentially a toss up (91-89 Team USA lead after a 7-0 run by Spain). Kobe had a hand (scoring or passing) in a large number of Team USA's points down the stretch. What you and Owen are saying would be the equivalent of saying that Dominique outplayed Bird in their famous game seven showdown. Nique scored more points (47-34) and he outscored Bird 31-14 in the first three quarters to keep the game close--but Bird scored 20 points on 9-10 fourth quarter shooting when the game was up for grabs. Did Dirk outplay Wade in the 2006 Finals based on his performance in the first 2.5 games? Or was Wade more valuable in that instance because of his production when the series was up for grabs? When you look at the larger context of Team USA's recent performances in major FIBA competitions, what Kobe did stands out even more precisely because Wade, LeBron, Melo and the rest were not able to author such a performance versus Greece in 2006 or Argentina in 2004. Likewise, no one on the 2002 version of Team USA stepped up in such situations, either.

Regarding defense, the gold medal game was probably Team USA's worst defensive performance overall, though Spain also deserves credit for playing well. When Fraschilla said that some of these FIBA teams hold things in reserve in pool play to use in the medal round some people scoffed but we can now see that Spain played possum a bit in the first game. Kobe was called for the dubious foul on Navarro's early three and Navarro hit some runners on Kobe late but Navarro did most of his damage versus Kidd, D Will and CP3. Kobe also did not have the assignment on Fernandez the entire game. I don't think that this was Kobe's best defensive game but I also don't think that he was primarily responsible for the defensive breakdowns that happened; also, some of Spain's points simply came off of great execution, not anything that Team USA necessarily did wrong. Keep in mind that Spain has several NBA quality players on their roster.


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