Man I hated writing this title.
In fact, of all the players in the NBA, I’m not sure there’s one I despise more than Kobe Bryant. His demeanor makes me bristle and his "me first" prima donna attitude is a living example of everything that’s wrong with professional sport.
And I won’t even get into the whole criminal charges thing.
But in spite of all of this, it’s impossible not to watch him play a game like he did last night and shake your head in amazement. As one of our readers so aptly put it late last night, perhaps between doses of Stella, you are amazed at Lebron, but absolutely blown away by Kobe.
"The Mamba" was unstoppable last night for LA scoring in every which way possible and thoroughly embarrassing the Raptors’ tissue-soft defence in the process. You name the move, he made it and made it look easy putting on a show for the sold-out ACC faithful, who braved Toronto’s latest storm.
And of course all of this was just background to the NBA’s big story of the day; the Lakers acquiring Pau Gasol for spare parts. A starting give of Fisher, Bryant, Odom, Gasol and Bynum all of a sudden looks ripe for a title run and considering how well put together this team is without Pau, it wouldn’t be surprise me to see them go all the way.
However if they do get to the finals, I have a feeling I may all of a sudden become a much larger Pistons or Celtics’ fan…
A Numbers Game – 46.
I REALLY need to stop throwing out "Kobe won’t be effective if" type statements.
Yesterday, I said that if Bryant scored 50, the Raptors would take it as long as he didn’t get his team-mates involved. Well, Bryan had 46 AND got his teammates involved as the Lakers shot almost 56 per cent from the field.
And you may never believe this, but before Kobe’s 81-point game against Toronto, I actually wrote this in the pre-game piece:
Therefore the key will be that even if Bryant puts up 85, make sure the rest of his teammates don't hit a shot. Bryant will get his, but if the Raps throw ineffective double teams at him then Kobe will find teammates for easy buckets and things could get away from Toronto quickly. In any event, it'll be a long night for Mo Pete and any other Raptors assigned the dubious task of shadowing Bryant.
Bryant’s 46 points were made on 19 of 28 shooting too, so it’s not like he was forced into tough shots. And while seeing Kobe dart through traffic to throw one down on the Raps might look great on the highlight reels, it was a stark reminder that maybe things just haven’t changed that much since Bryant’s 81. Toronto still lacks the athletic perimeter player it needs to even attempt to contain a Kobe type. Jamario Moon was efficient in spurts, but for some reason kept getting yanked by Sam Mitchell, something we’ll discuss later. And the rest of the team on number 24? Yikes.
The Turning Point –
Another of our readers pointed out that the turning point for this one was when Kobe came off the bus. I’d agree, but I think it came a few hours even before when news broke about the Gasol trade. The Lakers looked like they had some more pep in their step regardless of being undermanned and executed their offense to perfection. Even when Kobe wasn't scoring, he was finding teammates for open looks. In fact, Toronto saw a first-hand demonstration of why the triangle offense can be so effective.
Temperature Check –
Nuclear – Kobe Bryant. Hot doesn’t do him justice…on fire doesn’t either so we’re going with nuclear. 46 points on 68 per cent shooting from the field? Perfect from the line? 50 per cent from beyond the arc? Seven rebounds and five assists? Unreal.
What really impressed me though about Kobe’s play last night though was his craftiness. He’s no longer just a scoring threat, but his knowledge of how to play the game is so superior to most, that coupled with is athletic abilities, it’s a distinct advantage.
Case in point: Last night when the Raptors were giving Bryant too much space, Carlos Delfino tried to crowd Kobe and force him to give up the ball. Unfazed, Bryant simply waited until Delfino’s arms were right in front of him, and then proceeded to elevate into his shot, drawing the foul while hitting the J.
As Sam Mitchell said post-game, "I’m glad he plays in the West."
Hot – The Kobettes. Kobe’s supporting cast turned in a great performance in this win. From Turiaf playing physical against Bosh to Vujacic knocking down four of his five 3-point shots, the rest of the Lakers performed more than admirably. Add in a healthy dose of Bynum, Walton and Ariza and a pinch of Gasol and this makes for one scary recipe.
Hot – Andrea Bargnani. Andrea is the lone Raptor that gets the nod...and just barely. While he had a career-high in scoring with 28 points and was more aggressive than he’s been all year, he still struggled on the glass with only four rebounds, and was a complete liability at times on defence. One thing at a time though for the soph and it was just great to see him getting that ice back in his veins. Here’s hoping he keeps this play up through the remainder of the season.
It wasn’t just Bosh’s lack of productivity that hurt the Raps in this one though. Jamario Moon, Carlos Delfino, and Anthony Parker all struggled offensively (the team shot under 44 per cent from the field) and Jason Kapono did his best pylon imitation on defense.
Cold – Violet Palmer. I think the refs lost their whistles in the snow for this one. I admire Violet for refereeing in a male-dominated profession and she’s probably a great person. But as a ref, she’s terrible. Unfortunately with Joe Derosa in tow, things just weren’t pretty from a reffing standpoint and both teams suffered from inconsistent calls all night.
Moving On –
This is one the Raptors simply need to forget and move on from. The Lakers are a much better team and they unfortunately ran into Kobe on a night when he would not miss. Not too much you can do about that.
It also reaffirms the fact that the Raptors as presently composed, are a middle of the road NBA team; an upper seed in the East who would be fighting with the Houston’s and Denver’s in the West.
But there’s no shame in that, it’s a young team that simply needs to keep improving. And what better chance to do that then with the upcoming schedule which boasts current league heavyweights like Miami, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Clippers. Time to put some space between Toronto and the Washingtons and Clevelands of the league.
However to do that, the Dinos really need to work on a few areas, the first of which, is a plan B. Yes, this is a jump-shooting team, blah, blah, blah, but some of these guys have to start going to the rim. Jamario Moon attacked it last night like he was putting a flower in a vase and unbelievably the Raps most aggressive player was Andrea Bargnani. I’m not sure why we didn’t see any Hump, as I thought his bulk down-low would offset some of the Raptors’ match-up problems. Rasho was effective in limited minutes so why not give the Hump some burn?
In addition, while I thought Dixon played well at the point (he had a team-high six assists) I didn’t understand playing him and Jose together. Neither stood a chance on Bryant, and with the immaculate spacing in Phil Jackson’s vaunted triangle offense, it allowed LA to post-up the smaller Jose and Juan.
Nope, for all the great jump shooting, Toronto still needs someone who can get to the rim from the perimeter and score in the paint. (And who preferably can rebound from that position.)
Post-game Phil Jackson said as much regarding Toronto’s outside shooting versus LA’s interior scoring:
"You might get 30 points on 3’s, but those other 70 (in the paint) are really going to kill you."
Why do I get the feeling that Bryan Colangelo will have these words tacked up on a wall somewhere come this offseason?