Sure Bryant still forces shots. Sure Gasol is the more efficient scoring option, but Bryant controls the game, and in a tough position, he’s the one who can actually get a shot off when nothing goes right.
I’m watching him furiously fight to close out the Suns, and he’s working on both sides of the ball with energy and intelligence. He attacks Stoudemire when Amare catches the ball in the paint. He moves the ball when the Suns’ zone opens up a spot shooter. When a teammate gets trapped with the ball, he creates a passing angle and saves a dying possession.
He just hit back to back difficult jumpers, and Doug Collins announced, “Tough to come back when you’ve got a guy making those kinds of shots.” Bryant came down and hit another one, a very difficult fade away falling out of bounds – bumping off one defender and shooting over the help. He is single-handedly holding off a Suns comeback. He can do that. You don’t want to fall behind the Lakers because Bryant can ice you at the offensive end for a quarter all by himself.
Kobe sits. Gasol with a turnover. Dragic hits a jumper and draws a flagrant on Vujacic. After the free throws and another Dragic score, the lead drops to 11. 6 point swing. Another turnover for LA. Dragic scores again. Lead is 9. Phil gets Kobe off the bench, because Phil knows. You want the Master on the floor to get it back in hand.
The Suns are doubling Kobe on the catch, and the Lakers can go inside to Gasol with the defensive attention aimed at Bryant. Just being out there, he opens things up for his teammates. Fisher gets wide open when two Suns teammates stick to Kobe on a cross screen.
Bryant’s legs have gone on him. He’s missing jumpers. It hasn’t happened yet, but he will now start driving, getting to the line. I know this because it’s what a Master does. He chased Dragic off a layup and forced a missed reverse hook. Effort through exhaustion. Focus. Not taking off plays. Small things. Ordinary things. Crucial that a team’s best player practices them.And for all this, the Suns are within 7. Kobe hasn’t driven to the hole yet. He continues to take tough shots, but his lift is gone, and he’s missing them. The lead is down to 5. Kobe uses an entire possession and hits a floater. Still not taking it all the way inside. Forces a 3 on the subsequent possession. Maybe this is the separation point between Bryant and a LeBron or a Jordan. When the jumper fails Kobe, does he find another way? Jordan does. LeBron has to because his jumper is so iffy. Will Kobe do it before the game ends? The Suns haven’t committed a foul with 3:12 left in the 4th.
LA is going away from Bryant. That hasn’t worked. Kobe nails another difficult fading J after a time out. Steals the ball and drives directly into Frye in the open court for the blocking foul on the next possession. THAT’s what I expected. Hits two free throws to build the lead back up to 7. Gasol and Amare exchange paint buckets. Bryant buries an impossible fadeaway from 20 feet directly over Hill.
It’s not what I looked for, not the Jordan way, but Bryant has never really done it that way. We’ve tried to pound him into the MJ shape his whole career, but that’s not him. He doesn’t go and get the easier shot. He just crushes teams by hitting the tough ones. Like Doug Collins said, you’re not going to come back when Kobe hits unstoppable shots. That pretty well sums it up, and Kobe’s last bucket pretty much iced this series. He makes a few free throws, and the champs are going back to the Finals.
Kobe’s final stat line: 37pts, 6rbds, 2asts, 2stls, 2tos, 12-25fgs, 10-11fts and the Lakers were +19 points overall while Bryant was in the game. As a Celtics fan let me just say, “I’ve got a baaad feeling about this.”