Kobe's Tentacles Finish Strong
With the score 18-3, I finally asked Kobe The Octopus why he would not occasionally pass me the ball. A final, fatal question, it turned out to be. All I remember from then on was a flurry of tentacles and scowls and more tentacles. It was terrible. I woke up (with bruises), turned on Game 2 and Lo! there were Kobe's tentacles again!
Please pardon if Kobe has my tongue in riddles. When I watch Lakers games for work or pleasure (ha!), I typically like to focus on the other moving parts of the L.A. attack. Andrew Bynum. Lamar Odom. Trevor Ariza. Pau Gasol. Kobe gets plenty of ink -- I find the Bean canon is quite full, perhaps overly so.
But on occasion of Game 2, I decided to follow Kobe. It's an exhausting experience, as Mickael Pietrus and Jim Gray can attest. My particular goal was to see just how invasive Kobe's tentacles have become -- how frequently the Lakers can pull off a possession without Kobe's wresting the ball away and making a play for himself or a friend.
The Game 2 storyline from the Lakers' perspective is rather basic -- Kobe took over at the end, the Magic self-destructed in overtime, L.A. wins. But the level to which Kobe ramped up his assertiveness at the end is really, really something to behold.
Take a look.
The Lakers offense struggled through the first frame. It just so happens Kobe was wholly uninvolved in the shot creation process in the first quarter. Kobe created or executed seven of the 22 Laker shooting attempts in the first. By created we mean assisted ... even if the eventual shot was missed. (So if Kobe kicks out for a spot-up Derek Fisher three, we still say Kobe created the shot. If Kobe drops a pass to Pau, who immediately gets fouled going up, that's a Kobe-created shot.)
By the second quarter, during which Kobe rested 4-1/2 minutes, the balance between Kobe and The Field had tilted toward Bean. Of 12 shots during his 7-1/2 minutes in the period, Kobe created or executed six. Three of those were assists, coming off Kobe penetration or, in one case, absolutely terrible Magic defense.
In the third quarter, with the score close, Kobe's tentacles got fidgety. He took or assisted 12 of 22 shots. In the fourth, Kobe was involved in 10 of 18 shots. In overtime, Kobe used four of six Lakers shots. (Note that I didn't incorporate loose ball fouls inside the penalty or intentional fouls in this study.)
Separately, those numbers may not intimidate. But look at the last 13 shots spanning the final nine minutes of the game (including overtime) for L.A. specifically. They read like this, from the Kobe-focused perspective: Fisher misses a three off what would have been a Kobe assist, Kobe free throws (one of two), Kobe free throws (two of two), a short missed jumper for Kobe, a short made jumper for Kobe, a Gasol lay-up off a Fisher assist, the Block Heard 'Round the World Or At Least Asia Minor, a long missed jumper for Kobe, Gasol free throws off clear-out post isolation (two of two), a missed Ariza three off a Kobe feed, a short made jumper for Kobe, Fisher free throws off penetration, a flawless Gasol-Bryant pick-and-roll resulting in a two AND ONE for Pau.
That is a whole lot of Kobe! I think the beautiful thing (if octopi can be beautiful, to which there remains much disagreement in the scientific world) is that Kobe's ball dominance hasn't come at the expense of his teammates. The last non-intentional foul possession for the Lakers is a terrific example: Kobe giving it up to Gasol on the pick-and-roll. Involved, vitally involved. But not greedy. Not flying solo.
Of course, if Courtney Lee would have made that lob lay-up to end regulation, our memory of Kobe's Game 2 would be far different. It'd be that Hedo Turkoglu block from behind, with Odom standing wide open on the left wing begging for a pass from the triple-teamed Bryant. That memory is a bit more problematic for Kobe. Whether it's a more honest assessment of Kobe's on-court attitude than the closing pick-and-roll ... well, that's for you to decide.