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Lakers Season Over, Kobe One Man Show (5.21.12)
Kobe Bryant walked a lonely road on Monday night.
Kobe poured in 42 of LA's 90 points. Kobe pulled out all the stops and played as if the game was do or die, which it was. Unfortunately, the rest of the Lakers did not play with the same fire.
Kobe even dunked the ball five times, something he hasn't done since his 20's. Following his posterization of Emeka Okafor last postseason, Kobe stated, "It's a message for us that is important. And you know I save those. I don't have many of those left." Well, Kobe emptied his tank and gave everything against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five, but he couldn't do it alone and the Lakers lost 90-106.
The Lakers were neck and neck with OKC all game. Lead changes were abundant. The Lakers entered the fourth quarter down 77-83. Then, Mike Brown made his worst coaching decision of the year. Brown sat Kobe to start the fourth. This is Brown's normal rotation, however, it should have been obvious to Brown that Kobe was the only guy getting the job done. As Kobe sat, the Thunder rattled off 5 points in the first minute. Brown called timeout, but he still didn't sub Kobe in. Following a Sessions turnover, Kevin Durant nailed a 3 to make the score 77-91 with 10:30 remaining in the game. Following a consecutive Sessions turnover, Brown subbed Kobe in, but it was too late. LA would never get the deficit below double digits as the Thunder ran away with the victory. Blaming Brown may be a case of armchair quarterback. But his decision to watch OKC pour in 5 easy points in a minute, and still sit Kobe coming out of a timeout, is unforgivable. Just like the rest of the Lakers, Mike Brown was not ready for the big moment. The way Kobe was rolling, Brown should have went with him for the rest of the game. Kobe is an all-time great when it comes to pushing through the limits of exhaustion. Maybe the game would have been different if the deficit didn't swell to 14 points within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.
Kobe finished the game 18-33, 1-6 from deep, for 42 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. His critics will laughably point to the fact that he had zero assists. I won't. Kobe set the table, but the other guys didn't deliver. Kobe was aggressive all night. His poor deep shooting mostly resulted in the fourth quarter as he fired up desperation 3's, going 0-3. Although he played hard, Pau provided a disappointing 5-14, 0-1 from deep, for 14 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 turnovers. Kobe had some heated moments with Pau down the stretch, even yelling at him at times, but my guess is that Kobe was just frustrated with the way the game was going and he nitpicked Pau. One thing Kobe couldn't nitpick was Pau's effort. At least Pau showed up, the same can't be said for Bynum.
Bynum was absolute garbage. He was routinely forced off his spots on the block. He failed to dominate the paint. He just couldn't score on Kendrick Perkins. Then there was his defensive effort. Bynum routinely played soft defense, at times he even looked like a matador. A possible explanation could be the three fouls he picked up in the first half, with the third one an absolute phantom foul. But there was no excuse for his fourth foul in the opening moments of the third quarter. Bynum reached on a pick and roll and he ended up tripping Kevin Durant. Instead of playing fundamental basketball and moving his feet, Bynum opted to choose the easy route and reach. He got burned and was unable to play aggressive basketball for the rest of the half. Bynum finished the game 4-10 for 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal. Notice any holes in that stat line? Foul trouble may impact blocks, but foul trouble should not impact work on the glass. Four rebounds is inexcusable. Four rebounds in 35 minutes highlights a lack of effort. Bynum's lazy game came at the worst possible time. I fully believe that Bynum's lack of effort cost the Lakers the victory. Bynum stated after the game, "Tonight was the worst game I played all year." Yeah, no kidding.
Excluding Kobe, the Lakers shot 16-42 for 38%. Those numbers would have been even worse if Metta World Peace hadn't gone 4-5 for his 11 points. As a whole, LA shot 34-75 for 45.3%, and 2-11 from deep for 18.2%. The Lakers lost every important category that they needed to win. OKC inexcusably out rebound LA 51-35. OKC outscored LA 50-46 for points in the paint. OKC outscored LA 30-6 on fast break points. OKC dished out more assists also, 20-12. The only category LA won was points off turnovers, LA forced 12 turnover for 15 points, whereas OKC forced 12 for only 12 points. Not much of a victory. The biggest signifiers for the loss are the rebound totals and the fast break points. Despite employing two seven footers, LA could not win the battle on the boards. OKC dominated on the offensive glass, pulling down 14 compared to LA's measly 3. This should have been the other way around. Giving a high octane team more possessions is never wise. With LA unable to crash the offensive glass, OKC capitalized by pulling down defensive rebounds and getting out in transition. 30 points off of the fast break is just way too many. No one will beat OKC if they pour in 30 fast break points.
The first play of the game served as a foreshadow of events to come. Bynum could not capitalize on an iso at the near mid block. Perkins would not budge as Bynum attempted to back him down into the lane. Bynum eventually gave up on trying to move Perkins, and he kicked the ball out to Sessions at the near wing 3. Sessions nearly air balled the wide open shot as it came up real short. Durant nailed a pull up jumper off a curl. Pau responded with an aggressive drive, but he ended up missing the entire rim on a running lefty hook in the lane. Sessions followed by drawing a foul, but missing both free throws. Then Westbrook nailed a pull up jumper off the pick and roll. Kobe responded with a baseline turnaround bank shot from the far mid block to get LA on the board. Bynum followed with a 6ft miss over Perkins in the lane. Then Pau missed an open 17ft jumper from the far mid wing. Pau kept at it though, and he finished a dunk in transition after MWP hit him trailing in the lane.
Then Kobe got going. Kobe was very efficient throughout the game by scoring in early offense opportunities. Following a Westbrook missed jumper, Kobe pushed up the near side, attacked to the middle, got to the far elbow, and hit the 12ft jumper. Then Pau stole an alley oop lob pass. Pau hit Kobe, and Kobe pushed up the near side, got to the free throw line, and hit the 14ft jumper in transition. Following a Metta strip of Perkins at the far block, Kobe pushed up the far side, backed down from the far wing, turned baseline, and finished a reverse layup at the near side.
Following a Sessions blocked layup, OKC pushed the ball and Westbrook hit KD for an alley oop dunk. Pau missed an open jumper, and Bynum picked up his second foul while going for a rebound. Bynum was subbed out with 4:43 to go in the first. Then Ibaka drove the lane, missed a floater, fought through to crash the glass, and finished with a dunk. This was OKC's seventh offensive rebound of the quarter. Such effort cannot be overlooked. It clearly points to the inability of the Lakers to play hard and strong in the paint. A minute after Bynum picked up his second foul, so did Kobe. Following a missed jumper, Kobe backpedaled as Harden pushed up the court. Harden ran over Kobe at the near elbow, and Kobe flew back. Harden lowered his shoulder and plowed Kobe, but the refs called a block. Block/charge calls are difficult, but this one seemed to be a bit questionable. Kobe took the hit square in the chest and fell back. Harden sank both free throws. Kobe stayed in the game and tried to establish Pau in the post. Kobe stood at the near top 3 and looked to hit Pau at the block. Pau couldn't establish position on Nick Collison, and he ended up getting pushed out all the way from the mid block to the near wing. Pau caught the pass at the near wing, quickly attacked baseline, and absorbed the foul on the drive. Pau sank both free throws, but his inability to own the paint was disappointing. Pau beating someone off the dribble 23ft from the basket is never optimal.
Kobe responded with a strong close on the quarter. First Kobe abused Fisher on an iso. Kobe backed down Fish at the near mid wing, turned baseline, and hit the 15ft turnaround jumper. Then he pounded the ball from the far wing to the top. Kobe used a Hill pick to get to the near mid wing. Kobe pumped, sealed Durant on his right hip, leaned in and hit the 13ft lefty bank. Yes, lefty. Kobe then stole a pass, but Blake couldn't capitalize on an open corner 3. Kobe actually caught a break to close the quarter. Nazr Mohammed gathered an offensive rebound and was fouled at the far block with 0.5 remaining in the quarter. Kobe should have been the culprit, as he swung through Nazr's arms to prevent the putback, but the refs assigned the foul to Hill.
The Lakers finished the quarter down 21-26. Kobe went 6-9 for 15 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Bynum went 0-1 for 0 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Pau went 1-6 for 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Pau's activity was great, but he just couldn't get the ball to drop. Westbrook struggled, going 2-7 for 4 points and 2 assists. Durant went 2-4 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover.
To start the second quarter, Mike Brown stated to TNT sideline reporter, Craig Sager, "The one thing we can't do is we can't get pushed out of our spots and get pushed around tonight." This was an obvious reference to both Bynum and Pau. Brown must have ingrained this message during the break, because Bynum and Pau did a much better job offensively from the block. Unfortunately, the Lakers would fail to establish their position consistently once the second half started. With Kobe sitting to start the second, LA featured Bynum. Pau started it off by finishing a tip dunk following a Sessions missed layup. Collison responded with an easy layup on the pick and roll. Bynum conceded the bucket to avoid his third foul. Then Sessions ran a pick and roll from the near top. Sessions attacked to the free throw line, drew the help man, and lobbed the ball to the rolling Bynum for the alley oop dunk. OKC came right back with the same pick and roll set. Collison dribbled from the top 3 to the near top 3. Harden took the handoff and dribbled left to the top 3. On the previous play, Collison got an easy layup. This time, Bynum got caught staring at Collison rolling to the bucket. Bynum stared, and Harden hit the flashing Mohammed at the far block for a wide open dunk. Bynum responded with an iso at the near mid block. Bynum took two dribbles, turned baseline, and hit the righty hook. However, Bynum once again failed on the defensive end. Fisher probed the far mid wing and hit Mohammed at the far elbow. Nazr pumped, and Bynum bit on the fake. Nazr blew by Bynum and finished an easy dunk. Why Bynum would ever bite on a jumper from Mohammed is beyond reason. Despite his offensive production, Bynum gave all of his points back with weak defensive plays.
Sessions responded with a floater and some free throws to tie the game up at 32. His free throws were a direct result of an excellent play by Devin Ebanks. Ebanks air balled an open 17ft jumper from the far mid corner, but he didn't give up on the play. Harden pushed up the court in transition, but Ebanks caught up to him as he went up for the layup. Ebanks swatted the layup and Sessions pushed up the court in transition to draw the foul and free throws. Bynum followed with an iso at the near mid block. Bynum faced up, jabbed right, attacked baseline and spun back middle. Bynum stepped through the double, battled through the foul, and finished the layup, and one. He sank the free throw.