I also watched both the Heat vs. Thunder and Lakers vs. Celtics, and while I like my colleague, Paul and think he’s a good man, quite frankly, I agree with everything he said. I do want to go into more detail in places though.
On the point of Kobe downing the team with his terrible shot selection, I think there was a little more to it than that. Kobe played an overall very good game. He shredded the Celtics defense for 3 and 1/2 quarters, getting to good positions and hitting shots against off balance defenders. He even got physical with the bigger, stronger Pierce and managed to muscle in some baskets. The problem was that the Boston D adjusted, and Kobe and the Lakers never did. This is an issue with most teams when one guy goes into takeover mode. Everyone else gets disjointed, and the team rhythm goes bad. When it comes time to switch back to playing team ball, the whole concept of team has been lost and nobody else is ready to step up.
This speaks to the point that Henry Abbot recently tried to make over on Truehoop that Kobe isn’t quite as clutch as we’re led to believe because his track record of always going into isolation plays has a poor conversion rate. The numbers are against him, and it’s interesting to note that in the two game yesterday, the teams who moved the ball in crunch time instead of playing one on one basketball were the winners. LeBron of course is getting recognized for passing the ball to House for the game winner, but he and Wade successfully resisted the urge to try to take all the responsibility pretty much throughout. And Boston played it’s best ball by letting Rondo do his thing. Pierce didn’t get lured into a mano-a-mano with Kobe. They ran the offense and got open shots.
There’s a myth out there that the iso play to end games dates to Michael Jordan. I disagree (thus the word ‘myth’). Oh Michael took and made his share of last second shots off the dribble, but MJ was not the isolation king we may remember. I watched the flu game this Saturday (I have a tendency to watch old ball games when my wife goes out with her friends on the weekend), and low and behold, Jordan’s game winning three pointer came off of ball movement that drew the defense inside the three point line – Michael put the ball into Scottie in the post, and his man reacted, and of course Pippen made the team play and hit MJ for the open J. It got me thinking about Jordan’s game winners in general. The Shot against Cleveland – out of bounds play. The last second shot against Utah in game one of the 1997 Finals looked like a top of the key isolation, but there was a lot more to it. Pippen ran a cut through, there was an action on the baseline, and Kukoc made the pass of the inbound reception and then immediately cut away. The end result was a top of the key one on one possession for MJ, but there was a play being run to make it happen. The game tying jumper in Divac’s mug in game 3 against LA in 1991 was a length of the court sideline out-of-bounds bucket.
I still think Kobe was just doing his best to keep his team in the game as the Boston team defense slowly strangled the Lakers second half offense. Do his teammates decline to make strong cuts and pop out with their hands up for catch and shoot opportunities because they know Kobe won’t pass the rock, or does Kobe decline to pass the rock because his teammates don’t make strong cuts and pop out with their hands up? Let’s hope they never figure it out.