By Bryan Jeon
For 24 minutes, Kobe Bryant was on fire. He scored 28 first-half points on 11 of 17 shooting and scored the Los Angeles Lakers’ last 15 points on their way to a 48-39 halftime lead over the cold-shooting Phoenix Suns. Then, the roles on both sides took a complete 180-degree turn, as the man responsible for the Lakers’ hot start was the same man who shot the Lakers to a series-opening loss. Kobe going 4 of 16 with 11 points in the second half coupled with Leandro Barbosa‘s single-handed offensive showcase gave the Suns the high-powered offense that was nowhere to be seen in the first half, winning Sunday afternoon 95-87.
The Brazilian Blur showed why he is the leading sixth-man candidate, scoring 26 points on his quickness, resulting in mostly easy layups in transition. A major momentum shifter was at the end of the third quarter, when Barbosa made a 31-footer at the buzzer to bring the Suns within three. Amare Stoudemire also banged the Lakers in the paint for high-percentage shots, finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds on a day the Suns shot an unusual 6 of 23 from behind the arc.
But the story of the game was on Bryant, who many doubted that he was capable of single-handedly shooting the Lakers to a series victory over the high-octane Suns. He seemed to be executing just fine in the first half, but when his shots don’t fall, the Lakers do not look like a pretty team.
See, what people say is that Bryant took terrible shots in the second half, double-teamed and against perfect defense, but these people only say that when his shots don’t fall. They only speak after he misses the shot because Kobe always shoots insanely difficult jumpers all game. In the first half, don’t tell me Kobe shot 11 of 17 with ease and that Raja Bell didn’t contest his jumpers with swarming defense or sometimes even with a helping hand.
When Kobe’s hot, he’ll make shots over all five players and those on the bench, if it were possible; he’s that good. The only difference in his hot start and “bad shot selection” is whether or not they go in, and that’s when we start to criticize Kobe’s game. I admit Kobe shouldn’t have taken most of those shots he took in the last couple minutes of the game. He was cold, desperate and untrustworthy, and that won’t win you ball games. Yet at the same time, his recognition that he is that damn good also hurts him in thinking that he can make every shot that he attempts, be they “bad shots.”
Lamar Odom, who finished with a nice-looking 17 points and 16 rebounds, will never satisfy me with regard to his aggressiveness in the post. I can see him dominating the smaller Shawn Marion, who finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, every time they go at it. Same goes for Luke Walton, who also had a nice stat line of 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists but doesn’t toss his body around in the paint enough, as is possible against the outsized Suns.
Kobe is capable of leading his team to a few wins over Phoenix, but he’s going to need to do just that – be a leader, which was not evidenced by his 1-assist game in the Lakers’ defeat.
Game 2 is Tuesday in Phoenix at 7:30pm PT on TNT.
Image courtesy of AP Photo.