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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kobe Does It Again (4.3.12)

The Los Angeles Lakers played great in the first half against the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night. They raced out to a 58-45 lead by the half and their ball movement was excellent. In the first half the Lakers made 25 baskets and 18 of those baskets came off of assists. However, the Lakers fell into their all too normal routine of letting teams come back. Fortunately, Kobe Bryant was able to provide the biggest shot of the game for the third straight game, as he hit a magical 26ft game winning 3 pointer.

The coaches gave a collective statement as they headed into the tunnel to end the first half, they stated, "We are impressed by the ball movement and selfless play." This statement understates the beauty of the first half. Gone were the isolations, and instead sets were executed to perfection. I am not sure why the Lakers ran so many beautiful sets, but they sure did look good. This may have to deal with the fact that Bynum was unable to play, thus opening up the floor a bit. Bynum's absence allowed Pau to be able to roam the block and stretch to the elbows and corners, thus preventing the lane from always being clogged by at least one big man.

The next five paragraphs will examine some some great sets that the Lakers ran and executed with perfection. Skip ahead if you want.

Kobe Bryant excelled off the ball, reminiscent of his Team USA Olympics performance. The first play of the game, the Lakers ran a set that I haven't seen all year. Kobe moved from the near baseline to the far block as McRoberts picked his man. Kobe faked the curl up to the far elbow and swung back through to the near side, setting a back pick on McRoberts man on the near block as McRoberts circled around to the far block. As Kobe set the pick for McRoberts, Pau came down from the top of the key to the near block and screened Kobe's man as Kobe curled up to the mid wing. Sessions dribbled the ball at the far wing this entire set and he swung it to Kobe just as Kobe came off of Pau's pick. Kobe caught the ball and shot the 21ft jumper from the wing. Swish. Perfect execution. This was one of the best basketball plays I have ever seen. The Lakers as a collective whole were sharp.

Kobe's next bucket came off of another set. Kobe jogged from the far wing and circled to the near block as Sessions brought the ball up the near side. Sessions passed the ball to the trailing Pau at the top of the 3 point line. As soon as Sessions passed the ball, McRoberts came over and picked Kobe's man on the near block, allowing Kobe to curl from the near baseline to the far block. Pau immediately caught the ball at the top and sent a perfect entry pass to Kobe on the far block. Kobe caught the entry and went up for a layup while sealing off the trailing Gerald Wallace. Beautiful.

On another one, Sessions brought the ball up the far side. Kobe acted like he was going to iso on the far elbow. Kobe then swung around, set a pick on Pau's man at the top of the key, and continued curling to the far baseline. Pau moved from the key to the top far wing to set a pick on Ramon's man 30 feet from the basket. Petro, Pau's man, flashed up high to double Ramon on the pick and roll but he was late due to Kobe's previous pick on him. Ramon got around Petro and drove middle, leaving Gerald Wallace in a one on two defensive situation in the middle of the lane. As Ramon came off the screen, Pau rolled to the rim on the far side and Kobe continued moving to the near baseline. McRoberts cut from the near mid wing down to the baseline to set a pick on Kobe's man as Kobe slid from the near baseline up to the near wing. This left Humphries, who was guarding McRoberts, in a horrible spot. Humphries had to cover the rolling Pau as Wallace had to cover Ramon and McRoberts. This left Kobe wide open for the 19ft jumper. Sessions got into the lane and kicked it to Kobe for the splash.

The Lakers then pulled out this little ditty. Sessions walked up the court far middle. Pau ran down the middle and set a back pick on Barnes' man, allowing Barnes to curl from the middle baseline to the near elbow. Pau then set another back screen on Kobe's man, allowing Kobe to make the same curl as Barnes, moving from baseline to the near elbow. Sessions swung the ball to Kobe at the near elbow while Barnes continued his curl to the far corner. Kobe caught the ball, pump faked and got two guys in the air. He quickly pivoted and dribbled to his left to attack the rim. Kobe jumped in the air for a possible runner but instead kicked the ball to an open Barnes in the far corner. McRoberts, positioned on the far block, immediately screened his own man, Humphries. This forced Deron Williams to leave Sessions at the far wing and close out on Barnes in the far corner. Barnes caught the ball and immediately pump faked a pass to Sessions at the far wing. DWill bit on the fake and got out of position. This left Humphries in a one on two defensive situation. Barnes quickly took one dribble to the baseline and Humphries closed out on him, leaving McRoberts at the mid block. As soon as Humphries committed, Barnes sent a bounce pass to the rolling McRoberts. McRoberts caught the pass and laid it in.

On another one, Kobe inbounded the ball to Blake at the top of the key. Kobe then cut from near block to the baseline to set a pick on Barnes' man as Barnes curled from the far block to the near side. As Barnes curled, Murphy came from the near elbow to set a pick as Kobe moved from the middle baseline to the near side mid wing. Humphries left Murphy to shadow Kobe at the mid wing. With Humphries shadowing the top side middle and Gerald Green coming off the pick to recover to Kobe, Kobe caught the pass from Blake and immediately jumped to shoot the ball. Green bit on the closeout and Kobe immediately passed in the air to Murphy on the near baseline 4ft from the basket. Murphy caught the pass, took one dribble into the key and laid the ball in. Murphy actually tried to dunk the ball, but it slipped out of his hand. Luckily he was so wide open and right in front of the rim that this fumble didn't matter.

The amount of motion, picks, curls, back screens, and quick thinking on these sets gave the Lakers plenty of great opportunities.

Josh McRoberts with the buzzer beater.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)
However, the highlight of the night, besides Kobe's game winner, came from Josh McRoberts. Leading 30-23 with 4 seconds left in the first quarter, Sessions inbounded the ball to Josh just in front of half court. Josh was probably supposed to just give it right back to Sessions so that Sessions could have a full sprint going down the middle. However, Josh's man over pursued him and Josh instinctively caught the ball facing the opposing basket and spun right to attack the Lakers' basket. Josh dribbled up the middle of the court with his man trailing his backside. Sessions' man caught up to Josh right around the 3 point line and went for the steal. Josh immediately pulled off a nice behind the back dribble, going from his left to the right. However, this dribble caused Josh to run into his original defender. Josh bounced off the big man and almost lost the ball, but he was able to get his hand on it and spin back from right to left. After performing a spin move that probably surprised him for such ball handling skills, Josh knew he had to shoot to beat the buzzer. In one fluid motion Josh pulled off the spin and threw up a 19ft fadeaway. His lefty form looked pretty sweet, and Josh rattled the ball off the back iron and in. All of the Lakers had a huge smile and Stu Lantz stated, "Are you kidding me! Are you serious!" Bill McDonald jokingly interjected, "That is the truth!" Stu continued, "You can't be serious! You must be delirious!" McRoberts walked off the court with a huge smile and all of the Lakers were laughing as they huddled up to prepare for the 2nd quarter.

Fast forward to the half. The Lakers continued their excellent ball movement and Kobe and Pau were dominant. Almost all of Kobe's points came off of sets. Kobe finished the half 5-9 for 12 points, 2 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 turnover. Pau was spectacular, finishing, 9-13 for 18 points, 2 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 turnover. Ramon was also impressive, 4-6 for 12 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.

The 3rd quarter provided a couple more sets and some highlights. Kobe got one wide open 3 with 1 second left on the shot clock after the Lakers played hot potato with the rock and made the Nets run all over the floor for the entire set. As Kobe swished the shot, Pau Gasol got a little chippy with Kris Humphries and Pau shoved Kris in the back. Pau then got in Kris' face and said some words. Pau ended up with a technical foul. This marked the downfall of Pau for the night. He was never the same. On the very next defensive play, Pau had the ball roll off of his hand and arm to go out of bounds as he lost control of the rebound. Following that he had a wide open jumper on the near baseline that he missed. Then he bobbled a beautiful pass from Kobe on a fast break that surely would have led to a dunk. Pau ended up going 2-7 for the rest of the game, only scoring 4 points. However, he kept going hard on the boards, picking up 8 in the second half.

Kobe had a great play in the third as he split a double team. Kobe caught a swing pass at the near mid wing from McRoberts on the far baseline. Kris Humphries got caught on a switch and he ran out to close out on Kobe. Kobe slightly pumped, jabbed right and swung the ball back through to the left. Kobe jabbed right again, pump faked and got Kris in the air. Once Kris jumped, Deron Williams left Ramon at the top and came over to double Kobe. With Kris in the air, DWill coming from his left, and 3 seconds on the shot clock, Kobe took one dribble right, pumped again, and got Kris in the air again. With DWill on his backside, Kobe pivoted in, bringing his right foot inside of the flying Humphries. Kobe split the double and shot a 13ft leaning in jumper. Swish. Stu Lantz promptly stated, "If there's anybody that splits defenders and hits jump shots better than Kobe, I wanna see him."

After killing the Nets all game, Avery Johnson decided to take matters into his own hand to stop Kobe. After getting an offensive rebound, Sessions backed out to the top of the key and swung the ball to Kobe at the far wing. Avery Johnson immediately stepped on the court, just 2 feet behind Kobe and began waving his arms and yelling. His gesticulations were rather comical, but the point was heeded. New Jersey immediately doubled Kobe. Kobe swung to back to Ramon and the Lakers came up short on the possession as Pau missed a 1ft turnaround.

Leading 78-66 to start the 4th, the Lakers were in command. Unfortunately, the Lakers perpetuated their year long trend and gave up their big lead. Kobe entered the game with 7:00 to go and with the Lakers up 82-73. New Jersey doubled Kobe on every single touch he had from that point on. The Lakers completely failed to capitalize, going 2-9 with 2 turnovers, as the Nets tied the game at 86 after Deron Williams hit a huge 3 with 1:29 to play. In this five and a half minute stretch, the Nets went on a 15-4 run. The Lakers defense wasn't especially bad, however, they just couldn't score and the Nets kept playing hard. Deron Williams made numerous huge plays and gave the Nets a chance to win. However, Kobe was not going to let this happen. After Williams huge 3, the Lakers came down and Sessions passed to Metta World Peace at the far elbow. Metta faced up and jabbed right. Kobe ran over from the far corner and received a handoff from Metta. Metta immediately cut to the far elbow, but his man, Gerald Wallace, disregarded him and stayed with Kobe. Kobe took the handoff with his back to the basket and began to pivot with his left leg to turn to the middle. Noticing Wallace in the way and with Green on his back, Kobe reverse pivoted back to the right side and took one dribble in the middle of the pivot. Kobe picked the dribble up in the middle of a step back and he launched a fallaway 22ft jumper from the far wing to beat the double. The shot went in and Kobe walked down the court with a huge smile on his face. Jack Black and Ashton Kutcher were shown courtside, and they were totally in awe and freaking out with excitement. Gerald Wallace was able to attack the rim on the next possession and draw a foul. Wallace missed the first but made the second, making the score 88-87 with 58 seconds left in the game. The Lakers followed that up with an absolutely horrible possession. New Jersey went into a 2/3 zone and even doubled Kobe 40ft from the basket. Open looks were available for Sessions but he passed them up and decided to further run out the clock. Kobe was able to set up Sessions for a buzzer beating 3 in the near corner but Sessions missed. Pau got the offensive rebound and kicked out to Barnes who immediately sent it to Kobe. New Jersey doubled Kobe just inside mid court, almost 45ft away! Kobe swung it to Sessions again, and this time Sessions took it to the rim. Sessions got lucky as he jumped and got caught in the air. Ramon threw an errant pass to Barnes in the lane, but the ball bounced off New Jersey.

Bryant shoots over the outstretched arm of Wallace.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)
Kobe holds his form and waits for the ball to drop.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)
With 10.8 on the game clock and 2.3 on the shot clock, Stu Lantz wisely stated, "If your Avery Johnson, you say to your team, 'Don't let Kobe catch the ball. If someone else beats us with a shot, so be it, but don't let it be number 24.'" The Lakers came out in a box set with Barnes inbounding on the near side baseline. Pau started at the far elbow, Murphy at the near elbow, Sessions on the near block, and Kobe in the middle of the key right in front of the rim. Kobe came up and cross screened Murphy's man as Murphy cut to the middle of the lane. Sessions turned around and came up to the elbow to set a down screen so that Kobe could curl to the corner. Kobe faked going to the corner with a step out, and Sessions cut to the far block. After faking outside, Kobe began to drift back and Pau came over from the far elbow and cross screened Kobe's man at the near elbow. Pau's pick took out Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries didn't realize that he needed to switch out to Kobe. Kobe drifted to the top of the 3 point line and he put both of his arms out wide, imploring for the ball. Barnes noticed the wide open Kobe and he passed it in. Kobe caught the ball and shot the 26ft 3 pointer from the top. Kobe held his form the entire time as the ball went on a wild ride. The ball hit back iron, dropped halfway down before hitting the front inside of the rim and popping out. The ball then traveled into the air and bounced off the backboard, landing on the front rim, jumping to the back rim and bouncing straight up. The ball bounced one more time off of the back rim and finally dropped through the net. Kobe had a huge grin and he made a hand gun with his thumb up and pointer out. Kobe shot the gun and winked. Lakers up 91-87 with 10 seconds. Deron Williams would miss a 3 and the Lakers won the game.

Although the game was unnecessarily close, the Lakers prevailed. For the third straight game Kobe hit a game winner. Kobe finished 10-16 for 24 points. The Nets effectively thwarted the wonderful ball movement of the first half by switching in and out of a 2/3 zone. They also doubled Kobe for the entire 4th quarter on every touch he had. Hopefully next time the Lakers will knock down those open jumpers when Kobe is doubled. However, knowing that Kobe can always close a game is reassuring. This game may have been an aberration due to Bynum's absence, but the Lakers showed that they can get creative with their offensive sets. Big ups to Mike Brown. It's nice to know that Brown has some awesome sets that will definitely come in handy come playoff time. With Brown's sets and Kobe's greatness, the Lakers should be poised for success.

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