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NBA / Jun 9, 2010 / 4:08 pm

Pass the Rock: Kobe Bryant can’t have another game like Game 3

Kobe Bryant (photo. Chris Sembrot)

10-for-29. Those are not exactly Hall of Fame shooting numbers right there. In Game 3, Kobe Bryant was aggressive … aggressively almost shooting the Lakers right out of the lead. With perhaps the series hanging in the balance, Bryant was attacking and putting the Boston defense on its heels for much of the first half in L.A.’s 91-84 win. Yet at times, his poor shot selection and his teammate’s over-reliance on his theatrics threatened to be the Celtics’ best defense.

Bryant knows what he has on the line individually in this series. This is the ultimate test for his talent, dedication, will and leadership. Boston is treating it the same way and is refusing to let him single-handedly beat them. So far, Bryant was great (Game 1), off and on with foul trouble (Game 2) and inefficient (Game 3). Where does he go from here? Let’s break it down.

Maybe the most impressive aspect of Boston’s defense since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007 has been their ability to single out their opponent’s strength and completely take it away. Courtesy of future Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Celtics’ defense often overplays the strong side and aggressively pressures the ball handler. The majority of basketball players, even experienced ones in the NBA, fight pressure with pressure and drive right into the walls that the Celtics put up.

Against Bryant, they’ve done an incredible job of this during the past three seasons. He is one of the smartest players in the league, so normally Bryant doesn’t fall for the trap. Instead, he elects for other means of attacking: deep jump shots. In 14 games against the Celtics since their present “Big Three” was constructed, Kobe has averaged over five three-point attempts per game.

Boston’s defenders fight for every position and consistently push Kobe farther off the post than he prefers. Instead of catching it 16 feet from the hoop — just one dribble away from his sweet spots around the arc of the foul line — Bryant normally gets it a step or so inside the three-point line. And in no coincidence, his numbers against Boston (25.4 points per game on 39.7 percent shooting) look more pedestrian than the spectacular ones we’re used to seeing from Bryant.

In Game 2 Kobe came out passing the ball, racking up four assists before he scored a bucket, but thanks in part to being in foul trouble, he couldn’t get in rhythm late in the game and the Lakers lost. In Game 3, Bryant came out firing. All four of his shot attempts during the first quarter were deep, contested jump shots. He made one. However, he was able to get inside to draw a couple of fouls and converted at the free-throw line. If Boston is late on their help, Bryant can get to the line pretty easily.

After a productive first half of 16 points, 6 rebounds and some solid defensive work, Bryant’s offensive game was bottled up in the second half through a combination of things. First, Boston’s defense was fantastic and held him without a layup or open shot for the entire half. Ray Allen and Tony Allen battled him for every catch, and the Boston big men forced him a step or two back by hedging on every pick-n-roll. Alas, the best closer in basketball was just 1-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter. Everything was on the perimeter.

Another key was the Celtics’ intensity causing the rest of the Lakers, save for Derek Fisher, to shrink in the moment. In what was a reoccurring theme throughout the 2008 Finals, Boston’s passion and defensive schemes combined to contain Bryant while intimidating his teammates at the same time.

In the third quarter of last night’s Game 3, Pau Gasol was a complete non-factor and generally shied away from battling a rejuvenated KG on the block. This was the same Gasol who destroyed the Boston frontline in L.A. Boston’s aggressiveness completely ruined the Lakers’ offensive pace. They were out of position, over-dribbling and confused. Multiple times, Bryant was asked to bail them out, ending up with the ball is his hands 20 feet from the hoop and the shot clock winding down. When the miraculous attempts didn’t go down — such as two bombs off the dribble from Bryant and another moon shot from Fisher — ABC commentator Jeff Van Gundy pointed out, “The Lakers are getting horrible shots right now.”

Despite all of that, Fisher drove L.A. to the ugly win in the fourth quarter. His clutch field goals were magnified because his backcourt partner had lost all of the rhythm he developed in the first half.

While Bryant will always be known for his complete offensive repertoire, his early-season games were marked by the dominance of his post play.

By the start of January, Bryant was averaging 30.4 points a game on 49% from the field. Injuries derailed a lot of that momentum. However, in the Western Conference Playoffs, Bryant was very effective in the pinch post. Against the Celtics, that doesn’t always work with the way they crowd the paint.

During his brilliant Game 1 performance, Bryant scored in a variety of ways: from the foul line, on the fast break, with floaters and off-the-ball movement. But as the series is progressing, the Celtics are again starting to dictate where he goes. In the first 24 minutes last night, he mixed up his game. But many of his shots in the second half were two-dribble pull-ups going to his left. The Allens are sitting on that move and have crowded his space.

With the Lakers up 2-1, they might be one huge Bryant night away from really putting pressure on the Celtics. Could it happen? Anything is possible with the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer. But the numbers say otherwise. He has scored 30 or more just three times in his last 14 games against Boston.

Yet, if Bryant can continue to contribute 25 points a night, albeit more efficiently, while also getting his bigs involved, that will put the pressure on Boston to score a lot.

This series is showing the Lakers can dominate the paint if they involve Gasol and Andrew Bynum more often. Their best looks come from feeding it into their big men. As Laker fans know, this team is known for forgetting about their two skilled and agile seven-footers. When Bryant makes them the focus, everything else opens up. If he does that, it will ease the burden on himself to make difficult shots.

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  • Scott

    Gasol was ineffective in the 3rd quarter mainly because they stopped looking at him.

    Derek Fisher is LUCKY that his shots went in. They weren’t getting horrible shots, they were conceding horrible shots and not even bothering to post up Gasol or Bynum. It was incredibly frustrating to watch as a Lakers fan.

    It’s as if they forgot that given the chance to get in a rhythm Gasol can flat out dominate any of Boston’s bigs, including KG. Bynum as well, if they’d get him decent post position he can literally see over most of Boston’s bigs. It’s down right silly how easy it is at times for Gasol and Bynum to score against Boston.

    Still, it seems that when Kobe really wants to he can get to the rim at will against the Celts. A little more team ball to spread the court and not let the Celts focus on him as much would be good medicine.

    Nice article yo!

  • J

    Some of his overall 29 field goal attempts were taken with 7 seconds or less left on the shot clock due to their poor execution of running any type of offense all together. By the time they run plays to Gasol they have roughly 10 seconds to operate. These post ups usually lead to passing out and swung out to the wings then to Kobe who is usually there to bail them out. If he hits them he’s the greatest ever, if he misses he gets the blame. Give or take.

    Something else I notice during his shots were that he was not able to turn on his shots the way he has in previous series, the way he fades away and kicks out, most of the shots he has taken have been cutoff somewhat by having players playing him well, not allowing him to fully follow through with his legs the way he is acustomed to.

  • K Dizzle

    @ Scott

    You’re obviously an idiot callin Fish’s clutchtime heroics “LUCKY. Luck had nuthin to do with the tough floaters, the bankers, the attackin the rim over 3 Celtics.
    That’s alright tho. You do you.

    Best thing that happened last night as a Laker fan was when Lamar got in Kobe’s face with the “We right here. Pass the ball!” Team is comin full circle when somebody other than Fish can tell Kobe to use his teammates.
    Kobe’s gettin double-digit assists in game 4.

  • EN FUEGO

    Kobe better not, cuz Fisher won’t have another one like game 3

  • LakeShow84

    Havent seen Kobe look off keel like that in awhile.. Dudes never had good shot selection but the main thing to me was his shot looked OFF.. after awhile he looked worn to me.. Like he was shooting to SEE if he could make them..

    Not the usual form and confidence he shoots with..

  • ERIC

    Kobe’s hot start is what got the Lakers going.

    He took some bad shots towards the end of the shot clock to bail out teammates.

    However, noticing he played 44 minutes and committed only 1 turnover (!!) is amazing considering the amount of time he had the ball.

    He went 8-8 from the line, with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. And he made 2 big shots to extend the Lakers lead from two to four points.

    Wasnt the most efficient game, but still was the best player for most of the game until he fed the hot hand in Fisher.

  • frmkt

    ok.. this is a familiar problem with kobe. for some strange reason, he has a tendency to want to do it all even when it isn’t necessary. it happened while shaq was there too. it was a simple stratedgy: inside/out and at one point, kobe complained that it was “boring.” well my friend, as great as you are, team play isn’t about self gratification. you are the best player in the league but the owner has dumped big buck into his “bigs” and it’s your job to use them. you have to show your team that you’re willing to do so all of the time so they will follow your lead. 25 3s a night ain’t gonna cut it. You’ve got 2 7 foot trees and Pau is a killer passer. use it and when the defense collapses on the “bigs,” you and your teamates will be open for easy dueces. c’mon, you can do it. the team should easily have 25-30 assist a game with those 2 in the paint. Inside/Out and the Triangle when it presents itself.

  • Legend 33

    It’s all about the Celtics Def guys, good defense does beat good offense sometimes, no matter what Barkley always say. We stopped Wade, LeBron and Vince 3 of the best perimeter players the last decade, it’s no coincidence. And for the folks thinking the Lakers seized momentum and can coast to victory think again, didn’t the Cavs have momentum after game 3 and then LeBron basically got shut down by our defense after that.

  • J

    @ frmkt

    Kobe did chuck a bit when they had the lead in the 3rd. But neither of the laker’s post players were able to establish positioning, credit boston for playing them well. when Gasol did get the ball, he was a good 15 feet away from the basket. Farmar, Brown and Artest were not patient with the ball and denied themselves of the oppurtunity to run plays through Gasol or Bynum. More often then not the ball will end up with Kobe or Fish shooting contested bail out jumpers.

  • LakeShow84

    @ Legend 33

    Yeah but ur facing THE best perimeter player of this decade..

    Bet my meal ticket Kobes going to go off one of these next 2 games IN Boston.. and when he does.. if the D stays on point and Gasol, Bynum, Odom or Artest shows up we golden..

    And you guys had Rondo spearheading that charge.. Rondo aint coming alive in this series.. BET..

  • tja

    good article, interesting to read something going deeper then the usual humpey dumpey superficial star praising stuff on dime

  • Roman

    You mean, Ray Allen cant have another game like that. If you win who cares. Its the finals, not the regular season. Keep trying Dime. Its obvious you guys want Boston to win.

  • http://dimemag.com Sean Sweeney

    @Roman Yes, it is true Ray Allen can’t have another game like that. But, neither can Kobe Bryant. It goes both ways.

    I believe Kobe’s aggressiveness was done with good intentions: to give confidence to his teammates. While I think he got a little too involved in trying to kill the Boston run by himself, I doubt he plays as inefficiently in any game the rest of the series.