June 12, 2010
For the majority of their season, a 7 1/2 month journey that has produced a mountain of games now numbering in the triple-digits, the Lakers have been working with what their coach calls a "teeter-totter" style. They've either fully submitted to the nuances of the triangle offense, with its sound spacing and balanced scoring, or the team has run a more orthodox pick-and-roll attack, with Kobe Bryant(notes) dominating the show.
The latter usually produces the more tepid offensive results. But against a dominating defensive team like the Celtics, the Lakers have made the on-the-fly decision to give up on some of the more triangle-ish precepts. Phil Jackson has credited the Boston D with forcing the Lakers away from ball movement and into a dribble-heavy attack.
And though defense, especially interior defense, was clearly the problem for the Lakers in Game 4, the team still had its chances. And if the Lakers are going to run from the triangle and shorten the court on Boston's whims, then they need to truly make this one-man show.
Kobe Bryant has to be that guy.
He certainly got some looks in Game 4. Though Ray Allen(notes) played active, aggressive defense on him for most of the contest and Tony Allen(notes) did well to contest his perimeter tries, Bryant was still able to move into his favored spots on the floor. He was able to toss in 3-pointers from the far wing and post up Ray Allen when the ball swung around. Bryant made 10 of 22 shots -- a potent showing considering how many of those looks were from long range -- and tossed in 33 points as a result.
And it wasn't enough.
Because if the Lakers are going to struggle to defend, and continue to abandon extended ball movement, then Bryant truly needs to dominate. Thirty-three needs to turn into 43, and the squad has to go to Kobe again and again in the post. Because as dogged as Ray Allen has been, Kobe can still see over the top of him. And as much credit as Phil Jackson gave Tony Allen after Game 4 for refusing to bite on Bryant's pump fakes, he's still an arched eyebrow away from being baited into a potential and-one.
This is going to have to be on Bryant, a notorious game-tape hound, who knows where he went wrong on those 12 misses in Game 4. Kobe has to pass up shots in order to take better shots. Give the ball up when either Allen beats him to his spot, and then looking to secure the rock again and go for a better look. He needs to continue to utilize that bank shot, especially when working over Ray Allen in the post. And Bryant has to stop leaning left on his longer shots, especially when a prolonged and straightened follow-through can put him at the line 12 or 13 times.
Why not just go to what makes them a better team and run the triangle?
Well, it's tough. It sounds fine on paper, and you know the Lakers are entering each game telling themselves that Pau Gasol(notes) is going to see the ball at the apex of the triangle on every other possession, and that the ball is going to be moving around the perimeter quicker than ABC's cameras can keep up. But in practice, the Celtics make this reality a whole lot tougher to meet.
They don't crowd or trap or run gimmicky defense, but the Celtics anticipate cutters and ball movement expertly. They know your plays, even if you don't run any plays.And when you're just a half-second slow in making what should be the second pass of a five-pass play, that play could deteriorate or the C's could leap out and create a turnover in the passing lanes.
This leads to hesitancy, however briefly, and it often means the pass is pump-faked and never sent. Then Kobe has to come meet the ball and, in seconds, the Lakers go from that special outfit that never runs any plays to just another one of 30 teams, giving their big scorer a screen and the option to score or pass.
If this is to be the case, then Kobe has to look to score more and more. Because his fundamentals are so well-honed, he can improvise and do damage to that Boston defense in the mid-range game. Bryant's field-goal percentage around the rim was at a career-low this season, a result of aging legs and broken fingers, but the veteran is as good as ever at popping that bank shot from 16 feet.
This has to be the way he works, as it was for Michael Jordan in his mid-30s. Because a rested Celtics team and a rested Andrew Bynum(notes) will likely cancel each other out on Sunday, and we're bound to get another close one.
Los Angeles wouldn't be completely abandoning Tex Winter's creation. The spacing inherent in the sideline triangle and the squad's ability to reverse away from the apex and into Bryant in the post would still be there. Kobe just has to go to it, more often.
He spent the offseason boning up on post play. Now it's time, with as few as two or three games left in his season, to cash in on all those hours. LeBron James(notes) was somewhere selling shoes during those long afternoons last summer. Dwyane Wade(notes) was likely sunning himself and "friends." Kobe was in a gym. It's why he's playing right now, in mid June, and it also has to be why the Lakers go back to L.A. with a 3-2 lead.