Kobe Bryant drew from Lakers' 2004 NBA Finals loss to Detroit as motivation in 103-90 victory over Pistons
Kobe Bryant didn't see it that way. He saw the Lakers' matchup with the Detroit Pistons on a second night of a back-to-back in just the 12th game of the regular season as an opportunity to exact revenge on the Pistons for defeating the Lakers in the 2004 Finals, an era that seems much different than times are now. That defeat led to the firing of Phil Jackson, the trading of Shaquille O'Neal, the departure of Derek Fisher and a whole lot of drama involving Bryant's frustration with the organization afterwards. Now? The Lakers are pursuing a three-peat and the soap opera is pretty tame, with exception to perhaps Ron Artest's goofy antics and genuinely heartfelt effort in promoting mental health awareness. Detroit, on the other hand, doesn't have Larry Brown as its head coach, Chauncey Billups as its point guard and Rasheed Wallace as its power forward, transforming from a team six years ago built on solid teamwork to a team questioning its own head coach in John Kuester.
To put into perspective how far away these eras actually are, Artest has visited the Palace of Auburn Hills five times since the infamous brawl six years seasons ago, and Laker fans are well aware how much he's transformed.
But there Bryant stood after the Lakers' 103-90 victory Wednesday over the Detroit Pistons, telling KCAL-9's John Ireland the reason for his 32 points per game average against Detroit the last three seasons goes beyond his skill set in exploiting Detroit's defensive tendencies.
"'04,'' Bryant said with a smile after scoring 33 points on 11 of 20 shooting and going eight of eight from the free-throw line. "Of course. I never forget."
It shouldn't be surprising Bryant carried that mindset to ensure the Lakers' (10-2) third consecutive victory at the Palace. He admitted after the 2010 title run that he still harbored resentment toward Utah during the 2010 West semifinals because of his early-career struggles the Jazz. He added that those first-round exits versus Phoenix in 2006 and 2007 fueled his motor against the Suns during the 2010 West Conference Finals. And despite proclamations to the contrary beforehand, Bryant boasted that the 2010 NBA championship meant more to him than any other because it came against Boston and he currently has one more ring than Shaq.
What is comforting for Lakers fans is that he channeled that motivation against Detroit in the right way. Bryant at times became so consumed with a one-on-one or team matchup that his uber-competitive instincts would deviate from the team's game plan. He's matured lately in that respect, but you only have to look back at Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals to know his infinite drive to beat the Celtics got the best of him.
Against Detroit (4-8), it appeared Bryant would go head to head against Pistons guard Rip Hamilton, with Bryant scoring eight of the Lakers' first 11 points and Hamilton recording four of the Piston's initial six. But Bryant quickly neutralized Hamilton by drawing a foul on him, prompting Hamilton to argue the call and eventually get ejected with only 7:01 remaining in the first quarter.
The two consecutive three-pointers and the baseline drive off a Pau Gasol feed marked the beginning of a vintage night for Bryant. That included a spinning fadeaway on the baseline, pump-fake jumpers and up-and-under drives. The four consecutive free throws he made from Hamilton's personal foul and two technicals indicated the beginning of Bryant fully converting on his free throws after aggressive drives toward the rack.
Bryant didn't force shots. He found chances naturally. He didn't take over the game. He just played his part on a team that featured Gasol (25 points, 12 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (15 points, 14 rebounds) picking up double doubles. And he didn't allow revenge to consume him. He just used it to get the result he and the Lakers needed, an effort that proved enough to warrant resting for the entire fourth quarter.
Even if this was just an otherwise forgetful early regular-season game, Bryant wouldn't have approached the game any other way. And the Lakers are better off for it.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has his pull-up jumper challenged by Pistons guard Richard Hamilton in the first quarter Wednesday night. Credit: Julian H. Gonzalez / McClatchy-Tribune