Call it supreme irony.
Call it fate.
Or call it an indication from above that maybe I should stop writing game-day previews...
On a day when this RaptorsHQ writer stated that "the key (to stopping the Lakers) will be that even if Bryant puts up 85, make sure the rest of his teamates donâ€™t hit a shot..." in no way did I ever dream that this in fact would take place.
Yes the Raptors limited Bryant's teammates to only 41 points...but it didn't matter as Kobe himself scored 81 in the Lakers win over the Raptors last night.
The fascinating part of this was not so much that he took 46 shots, hitting 28 of them and went 18 for 20 from the free throw line. No, it was when and how he scored these 81. At halftime the Raptors were rolling towards a win with a 63-49 lead. The Lakers came out in the third quarter and still seemed asleep as the Raptors eventually stretched their lead to 18 points.
And that's when Bryant got angry.
Kobe had 26 points at the halftime mark, still well on his way to another 50 point game. But Bryant, like his iconic predecessors in Jordan, Bird, Magic and Wilt, ratcheted things up a notch when his team needed it most. Bryant outscored THE ENTIRE RAPTORS' TEAM 55-41 in the second half leading a furious Lakers' charge as he single handledly took the wind out of the Raptors' sails sealing a win for Los Angeles.
Watching Kobe in the second half is something I'll never forget. Yes, the Raptors defence was porous at times allowing Kobe to get to the rim with ease or to shoot uncontested jump shots. But this was not always the case. Even while being fouled or with a hand in his face Kobe converted. In the third quarter (where he scored 29 points) Kobe was relentless attacking the basket or his defender and neither zone, box or man-to-man defense could prevent history from being made. And by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Kobe was in such a zone that the entire Raptors team simply began watching Bryant as opposed to at least attacking on the other end of the court.
And before long their fate was sealed.
With each unbelievable shot that he hit Kobe seemed more invincible and you could see an impending sense of doom spread rapidly through the Raptors. In fact, it was akin to a prisoner being led to the guillotine...the team had simply accepted their fate and that they were destined to lose.
So could the Raptors have done anything differently to hinder Bryant on his way to a record night? I think not. When an opposing player is simply coming up the court and launching 3's (and swishing them) at the start of the shot clock, there's not much you can do defensively. That's a shot most coaches would want the other team taking. However I do feel that Morris Peterson and Sam Mitchell share some of the blame regarding the Raptors' inability to contain Bryant. Peterson took only 5 shots and Kobe simply did not have to work hard on the defensive end of the court. If the Raptors had had an offensive threat going at Bryant consistently, he may not have had the legs late in the game to keep his onslaught up. Likewise, Sam Mitchell elected not to double team Bryant or use a Pape Sow (who as an aside, played well in limited minutes) or Eric Williams on Bryant in an attempt to use up some fouls and get physical with Bryant. Dumping Kobe to the ground a few times might have thrown off the incredible rhythm that he was in all night.
Invariably now, tonight's game might be rough. In a similar manner as Vince's 3 point dagger exactly 2 weeks before, Toronto may suffer from the blow of the loss and may simply not show up for this next match. It's going to be up to the Raptors' coaching staff to get the team to forget about the "Kobe incident" however historic it may be, and get ready for this next contest against Denver, another good test for this young club, especially after this loss.
It's this writer' s hope the team can dig deep and get angry about last night's events.
Angry about blowing such a big lead.
Enraged about the lack of team defense that allowed so many Laker penetrations.
And voracious over the complete lack of rebounding (51-27) that allowed L.A. to hang around putting Kobe in the situation where a historic comeback was possible.
But don't be angry at Kobe.
No, if anything the Raptors (the rookies in particular) would do well to remember the spirit and ferocity that Bryant displayed in the face of adversity last night, an element that distinguishes the "superstars" in this league from the other "stars."
And if the Raptors could take even a tiny piece of this spirit from the most competative and talented player in the game and attempt to translate that into their own games then perhaps fans would see this team start to approach its true potential.