Kobe's Shot Goes Silent in Balancing Act
It was May 6, 2006. In Game 7 of a first-round series against Phoenix, Bryant, after scoring 23 points in a first half in which his team trailed by 15, had just one point on three field-goal attempts in the second half as the Lakers were crushed 121-90. TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley then ripped Bryant on the air, touching off a minor feud.
It was not immediately known what Barkley thought of Bryant's latest aversion to shooting since ESPN broadcast the Saturday night doubleheader. But Sir Charles will be back on the air Sunday night, and just might discuss Bryant this time having a first-half boycott.
In the meantime, the Lakers believe Bryant's early absence of a trigger finger was not the reason they were walloped 110-89 Saturday by Oklahoma City at the Ford Center, resulting in the West first-round series now being tied 2-2.
Bryant didn't take a single shot in the first quarter, when the Lakers fell behind 29-17. His first field-goal attempt didn't come until he drilled a three-pointer with 9:06 left before halftime to cut the deficit to 36-24.
"I was managing the game just exactly how I wanted it,'' said Bryant, who had two assists and two turnovers during his scoreless first quarter. "Unfortunately, it got away from us by them getting out in transition and getting those buckets. I wasn't able to do what I normally do at the end of the game, close games out. But I felt pretty good about the way I was managing.''
Well, Phil Jackson is the real Lakers manager, although they call them coaches in basketball. He didn't seem to have a problem with Bryant's early strategy even though he had a problem with just about everything else in Saturday's disaster.
"He wanted to get everybody involved in the game,'' Jackson said. "It was OK. It was all right. If we make our foul shots (3-of-12 to start the game but actually just 0-of-2 when Bryant finally decided to take a shot), we're OK in that ballgame. We're down maybe five points or seven points if we make some free throws, and professional players should do it ... The only time I didn't like it was when he got stripped (by Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha midway through the first quarter, leading to a Kevin Durant dunk)."
Bryant shot just 5-of-10 for the night for 12 points in 32 minutes, not playing in the fourth quarter. He was already gone from the bench late in the game to ice his ailing right knee in the locker room.
It was the lowest-scoring playoff outing by Bryant since he had 12 points May 22, 2000, when he shot 2-of-9 against Portland in the West final. It was the fewest playoff field-goal attempts by Bryant since he went 6-of-10 May 14, 2008 against Utah in a West semifinal, but that hardly counts since he was 13-of-17 from the foul line and scored 26 points that night. Before that, one must go back to the above-mentioned Portland game for one in which Bryant attempted 10 or less shots.
"It's a tough balance for him,'' Lakers guard Derek Fisher said of Bryant's lack of early gunslinging. "I think (in Thursday's 101-96 loss in Game 3), he took some shots that he probably wouldn't want to take every night and so he came out (Saturday) and tried to make sure everybody (got involved), and a lot of times that's when we're most successful. But we turned the basketball over early.
"Obviously, we'd love to have him get some points and score for us in that first period. But I don't know if that was the determining factor in why we got off to a slow start. We just weren't sharp.''
Bryant, shooting just 38.4 percent in the series while averaging 24.0 points, has been more of a blunt object himself lately. His sore right knee, which forced him to miss four games at the end of the regular season, looks to be a factor.
"It's affected it a little bit," Bryant said when asked if it has made him less aggressive in attacking the basket. "But I'll get on top of it, and I'll be ready to go next game (Tuesday at the Staples Center)."
Bryant said he took advantage of the game being out of hand late in the game to get started on his treatment because the Lakers had a "long flight" back to Los Angeles.
"I've had to do a boatload of treatment,'' he said of recent games.
As for the Lakers' boat, there's been holes in it lately.
"We understand this is a tough test," Bryant said. "We said that at the beginning of the series this is going to be a long series. This is going to be a dogfight ... The playoffs are tough ... You go through games that you play extremely well, and then you get busted up pretty well. And then you go on to the next one."
One thinks Bryant's shooting strike will come to an end in Game 5. After all, in the two outings against the Thunder prior to Game 4, Bryant had hoisted an average of 28.5 shots.
Maybe Bryant's shooting arm just needed a rest Saturday. Perhaps he should have iced it down along with his knee.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson.