Kobe the Scorer Transforms into Facilitator in Game 2
His Phoenix squad was unlucky once again, 124-112 losers on Wednesday night at the Staples Center to fall behind 0-2 in this Western Conference finals matchup that hasn't had any of the parity so many expected. In the other locker room, one of the most vocal Lakers of them all found himself at a loss for words.
But Derek Fisher's momentary muteness wasn't a reaction to Stoudemire's ridiculous claim, the one about Lamar Odom finding a four-leaf clover while landing on Park Place during his Game 1 outburst. Fisher, who has been along for most of the incredible Kobe Bryant ride ever since its 1996 beginning, was marveling at the Lakers star who set a career playoff high with 13 assists while adding 21 points.
"He, um ... I don't know man," Fisher began. "I know people have questioned his health and what he can or can't do anymore based on his age. But I'm speechless, and that's very rare that I'm speechless."
So, Fisher was asked, is Bryant still the best player in the game in this LeBron James-folding, Dwight Howard-shrinking, John Wall's-coming era?
"In my opinion, yes," he said. "No question."
The man who dominated the Suns in the opener with a vintage 40-point game followed it with his finest postseason moment as a passer. He made the Suns pay for their knee-jerk reaction to his opening game effort, spending four quarters passing out of double teams and helping the Lakers finish with six players scoring in double digits. Ron Artest continued his offensive upswing, hitting six of nine shots (three of six from beyond the arc) for 18 points, while Pau Gasol had 29 and Lucky Lamar 17.
Even for one of the game's rarest talents, this was rarefied air. In 165 career playoff games, this was just the seventh time Bryant had tallied 10-plus assists. He also joined Magic Johnson as the only other Lakers player to ever have 13-plus assists in a playoff game.
The performance left the genuine Alvin Gentry shrugging his shoulders afterward. The Suns coach half-jokingly asked reporters if they had any ideas on how to slow this Lakers offense that has posted 126 average points and shot 57.8 percent through two games, knowing full well that so long as Bryant keeps fighting back Father Time the answers simply don't exist. Just days after talk of the removal of fluid from Bryant's ailing right knee, the Suns were the ones feeling drained.
"What happens if you try to start to double team Kobe and try to get the ball out of his hands ... he's a very unselfish guy," Gentry said. "He really trusts his teammates now. And when you do that, he finds open guys. ... It's pick your poison with these guys."
Fisher, who held Steve Nash to just eight shots (four converted) and helped force five turnovers, had seen it countless times before.
"Kobe is going to attack at all times," Fisher said. "If you double, then we have guys that are going to make you pay. If you don't double, he's obviously going to make you pay. That's why this team is built the way it is -- to win. We all have confidence in each other that regardless of what the defense is doing, we trust the guy to make the play."
For stretches of the evening, the tenacious Jared Dudley managed to be Bryant's cyanide. He matched him physically and competitively, if not athletically, fighting through screens and keeping the chase close through the lane without being lost in the triangle's vortex. Dudley was huge offensively, hitting all five of his three-pointers for 15 points (on six attempts overall)
In the first half, Bryant's attempt at an ankle-breaking crossover atop the key led to a Dudley steal and Jason Richardson dunk. Dudley won the matchup again early in the fourth, sticking Bryant on the left wing and forcing a badly missed pull-up jumper. Dudley answered with a three on the other end seconds later to cut the lead to 95-93.
On the next possession, the necessary adjustment was made. Bryant took the carbon-copy approach up until the end, appearing to rise for the shot only to slip a pass to a slicing Odom for a layup.
"It shows you how good the Lakers are offensively [because] we are a good team defensively," Dudley said. "It shows you that Kobe can go from scoring 40 [in Game 1] and then another night [he's] playmaking."
Added Odom: "He's so good. It's not even [just] in these playoffs, but watching throughout the season, whether it's a double or whatever [teams do to defend him]. He just has such an array of [moves], it's awesome that there are so many things that he can go to. He's virtually unstoppable."
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