Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kobe Lights Up The Warriors (4.1.12)

Kobe Bryant can thank the undermanned Golden State Warriors for allowing him to get his stroke back. After a disastrous 3-21 performance the previous day, Kobe rode the momentum of his clutch game winning 3 into the Warriors game.

Great players tend to come out very aggressive after bad games. The "killer" mentality of high level athletes allows these players to push past the boundaries and reach deep within for that extra level of performance. Kobe Bryant is a great player. Kobe Bryant has a "killer" mentality on the basketball court. Kobe Bryant killed the Warriors, dropping 40 points on a super efficient 16-28 shooting touch. After shooting short on almost all of his jumpers against the Hornets, Kobe mentioned after the game that "Fatigue might have something to do with it." Second in the NBA in minutes played in his sixteenth season, a compacted hectic season due to the lockout, I'd say fatigue had a lot to do with it. As I mentioned in my previous post, Kobe shot many of those shots in rhythm and within the flow of the offense. The fact that he didn't make those good looks and shot short highlighted his lack of elevation on his jumper due to tired legs. Kobe went 1-8 from downtown that night, his only make the game winner. However, Golden State presented Kobe with a prime opponent to get his stroke back.

The Warriors came in undermanned, dressing just 8 players for the game. Due to their lack of depth, the Warriors played a 2-3 zone for most of the game. Kobe wisely avoided the temptation to jack up open 3 pointers against this zone and he consistently moved into closer open spaces for high quality looks. Kobe started the game hot, going 3-4 in the first 3 minutes. He finished the quarter 6-11 for 13 points. His longest attempt of the quarter was a 21ft jumper. Kobe wisely shortened his attack zone and was able to efficiently produce buckets against the 2-3 zone. With Andrew Bynum rolling his ankle late in the quarter, Kobe knew that he would have to have a big game to carry the Lakers to victory. The Lakers led 27-26 after the first 12 minutes.

Kobe sat the first six minutes of the second quarter. This stretch was his sloppiest play of the game. Kobe had 2 of his 3 turnovers during this stretch. Both were probably not his fault. During his first one, Kobe was in isolation on the near elbow. Kobe was doubled, so he dribbled out 30 feet from the basket. He looked to pass the ball, but Troy Murphy was late flashing to the free throw line near elbow and Murphy's man was tipped the ball from behind and Golden State ran off for the fast break layup. The next turnover was a ticky-tack offensive foul. Kobe was establishing position on the far elbow and Dorrell Wright gave him a good push in the back, moving Kobe about 2 feet out of his desired position. Wright then had his hands on Kobe's waist, and Kobe slapped Wright's wrist. The refs called the foul and Kobe walked back in disgust. This moment was rather comical. Kobe finished the quarter 2-4 with 2 turnovers and 1 assist, putting him at 8-15 for 17 points and 3 assists at the half.

Kobe picked up his momentum in the third quarter. Kobe shot 5-8 for 12 points and dished out 2 assists. After sufficiently feeling good about his jumper, Kobe attempted his first 3 pointer with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. Kobe swished it. Kobe had one spectacular play that became the theme of the night. Pau was in isolation on the far block and Kobe cut from the near corner into the middle of the lane. Kobe pinned his man and caught Pau's entry with one hand because his other hand was desperately being held down by Klay Thompson. Kobe caught the ball and threw the shot up over his shoulder, almost like a hook shot. The ball went in and Kobe finished the and one with his free throw. The play was evident of Kobe's night; attack the basket and get good close looks. The third quarter also contained one more highlight that must be written about. Kobe was in iso at the top of the key. He attacked with one dribble and pulled midrange. Kobe missed, but McRoberts got the offensive rebound. Josh kicked it out to Blake at the top of the key, and Blake swung it to Pau in the far corner. Pau was open for a second, but he held the ball. The crowd then urged him to shoot the 3. Pau did a fake crossover, dribbling in then out and he shot the 3 with the Warrior's hand in his face. Of course Pau missed the shot, but no one really seemed to mind. The shot was not really much different than Bynum's ill fated 3 point attempt. Both were bad attempts and both were early in the shot clock. However, Pau has a history of hitting that corner 3 and he definitely had the backing of the crowd. Bynum's attempt pretty much came out of nowhere, surprising everyone; whereas Pau's attempt was a good look to begin with, but took too long and turned into a crowd pleasing jack up. To be fair, Pau was subbed the next dead ball, but this was probably Mike Brown's normal rotation and not a yank. The Lakers beat up the Warriors in the third, outscoring them 32-22 and Kobe finished the quarter with 29 points.

Vintage Kobe jabs to create space for his huge 3.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)
Kobe drains the 3 in McGuire's face.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)
Kobe sat to start the fourth. He left the game with the Lakers up 13, but by the time he came back in, the lead had been squandered and it was just a 7 point game, 95-88. Kobe did what he tends to do, he closed the game out. Kobe had one scary play, as he was wrapped up by Nate Robinson as he began to elevate for a dunk on the break. Luckily Kobe jumped off of two feet, allowing him to keep his balance and not take a huge tumble. Kobe shot 3-5 in the quarter, with two of those makes being 3's. He scored 11 in the fourth, putting him at 40 on the night. His first 3 of the quarter was an intelligent basketball play. Kobe noticed his man in the key for help defense while Kobe was on the near baseline. Kobe motioned for Murphy to set him a flare screen, and Kobe popped to the corner. Pau saw the play happening as he held the ball at the far elbow and he swung it to Kobe. Kobe nailed it, putting the Lakers up by 10 with 4 minutes to play. Kobe's next big play was his next 3 pointer. With the score at 112-109 with 1:39 to play, Kobe held the ball at the far wing. He was immediately doubled and he dribbled out to about 35 feet. He passed it to Murphy who appropriately flashed to the far elbow open space. Kobe looked for the give and go, cutting to the basket, but he was covered well and Murphy kicked it out to Sessions at the top of the key. Kobe cut back to the far wing and Sessions swung the ball right back to him. Kobe caught the ball, jabbed right and pulled up, swishing the 3 and putting the Lakers up 115-109.
McGuire and Jefferson chase Kobe, leaving MWP open.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)

Metta World Peace catches and shoots the open 3.
(Courtesy Fox Sports West, NBA)
That 3 point shot would be Kobe's final points of the night, but he might as well have gotten 3 more. After Richard Jefferson hit a 3 to match Kobe, the score was at 115-112 with 1:21 to go. The Lakers ran a basic motion offense set, looking for Kobe to get a 3. Surprisingly the Warriors decided to play man during this set. Both of the bigs sets picks on the block as Kobe ran from the far wing and circled down and up to the near wing. Metta World Peace did the same thing, circling from the near wing to the far wing. As Kobe came off of the first pick, both his man and World Peace's man decided to chase Kobe, leaving Metta World Peace to run free. Metta got to the far wing and promptly caught the pass from Sessions and drilled the game sealing 3. Kobe's hot hand all night allowed Metta to get a wide open look with a minute left in the game. The Lakers made one more basket and finished out the game 120-112.

After getting into a nice flow and hitting numerous close to midrange shots, Kobe finished the game with big 3's, shooting them with great confidence and rhythm. Kobe wisely got himself hot with good looks early in the game and his stroke stayed with him at the end. Kobe's legs did not seem to mind so much during the game, but Kobe didn't rely on them nearly as much. Abandoning the three ball until he was fully comfortable with it, Kobe played the old man's game and finished with a young man's touch.

The Black Mamba struck again.

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