Kobe Meets Shane Battier's Force Field
But in Houston's Game 1 win over the Lakers, Shane Battier covered Kobe almost exclusively. As Matt Watson wrote, Battier did a fantastic job, hassling Kobe into an inefficient game. How did he do it? Or did Kobe do it to himself?
I charted Kobe's offensive possessions with an eye on Battier and Artest. Rick Adelman had already announced Battier would be the lead Kobe defender, but the exclusivity level wasn't known until the game began. (You can also imagine a scenario in which the circumstances of the game would necessitate Battier being replaced in the line-up by an offensive creator.)
Battier was the defender on 27 of Kobe's 33 shooting possessions. Artest covered five (three of which coming when Battier was on the bench getting stitches or a rest), and the other possession came against Brent Barry on a secondary break. (By the way, Brent Barry held Kobe to 0-1 shooting! Brent Barry!)
In those 27 Kobe vs. Battier shooting possessions, two ended with trips to the line. Both of these came in the final two minutes, as Kobe decided to start attacking the basket. Bryant had only one prior FTA, on an "and-1" against Artest. For perspective, on the season Kobe drew 0.33 FTAs for every FGA. But in those Battier-defended possessions in Game 1, Kobe drew just four FTAs on 25 FGAs -- 0.16 FTA/FGA.
That's because the lion's share of Kobe's shots came on jumpers. Of those 25 FGAs against Battier, 21 were jumpers. Of the 21 jumpers, 14 were long twos (the least efficient in basketball at the league-level). Obviously, you don't draw many fouls on jumpers, let alone pull-up jumpers (which Kobe often went to). Not until those final minutes could Kobe lose Battier on screens; it's hard to tell whether Kobe, feeling ill and maybe rusty, didn't feel up to a pounding in the lane, or whether Battier just shut it down by fighting through screens and leaving some space for Kobe to fire up (seemingly) open jumpers. (No jumper against Battier is truly open. He's so skilled at shoving his hand in a shooter's face. Every time. Without fouling.)
Given Kobe's aforementioned talent and focus, I find it hard to believe he simply didn't want to drive. Kobe's eye is on the prize. He knows what he needs to do to get L.A. another championship. He knows he's at his best getting to the rim, especially against a long, agile, but not quick, Battier. Kobe knows all this ... and took 25 jump shots. I think Battier gets credit for this one. (Artest, too: in the five Artest-defended possession, Kobe took four jumpers and got to the rim once.)
Assuming Kobe adjusts in Game 2 and begins to drive into the core of the Houston defense, we'll see how long Battier can hold up the fort before needing more help from Artest or a double-team.
(Addendum: Kobe finished with four assists, but by my charting had another nine "potential assists" -- passes leading to shots which, if those shots had fallen, would have counted as assists for Kobe. This doesn't mean Kobe could have had 13 assists if his teammates didn't shoot so poorly -- the passes weren't exactly alley-oops; most were normal ball movement passes that ended with the ever-efficient (not) Trevor Ariza three-pointer. But Kobe did share the ball despite his 31 FGAs. The passes just didn't help much.)