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Breaking down Kobe Bryant's 41-point performance in Lakers' 109-96 loss to Boston Celtics

January 31, 2011 |  7:00 pm

Usually, the Lakers devote part of practice to reviewing film from the previous game. Apparently, that didn't apply to their 109-96 loss Sunday to the Boston Celtics.

"I really haven't looked at the game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. "I haven't looked at the second half. I watched some of the first half. I'm not even finished with that."

Usually, the Lakers take pride in their willingness to communicate areas of concern to one another. But when it came to dissecting who was most responsible for the Lakers' dysfunctional offense . . . that was something both Jackson and Lakers forward Pau Gasol acknowledge they did not address with Kobe Bryant.

"We'll talk about it together about those things and we'll work on it," said Jackson.

"No, it hasn't."

In the never-ending chicken-or-egg argument, plenty of theories were available for what contributed to the Lakers' offensive problems against Boston. Was it simply the Celtics' defense? Gasol's five-for-13 shooting? The combined two-of-16 shooting from Ron Artest and Derek Fisher? Or did Bryant's 41 points on 16-for-29 shooting actually contribute to the imbalance even when shots went in the basket?

Jackson and Gasol made it clear they weren't pinning this solely on Bryant. Jackson noted of Bryant's streaky shooting, "There are times it worked and there are times it didn't," adding it was appropriate so long as you "make the plays," and then placed blame on the Lakers' front line: "Our big guys didn't step in and demand the ball and they weren't aggressive about it." Gasol argued Bryant's 11-point fourth quarter proved warranted; he also wished the team had exhibited more balance the other three quarters and acknowledged he didn't help the situation: "Obviously I wasn't as effective and productive as I'd like to be. It's a weird kind of flow. Just trying to get involved and trying to be aggressive, but I didn't have a lot of opportunities. That's also up to me to be aggressive to be a little more aggressive and active on both ends of the floor." And Bryant? He didn't meet with reporters after practice Monday.

This is far from a he-said, he-said argument, though the Lakers need to address this issue considering Jackson's admission that the team's recent offensive inconsistency most concerns him. And since Jackson said he hasn't finished watching the tape, I figured a detailed sequence of every one of Bryant's 29 attempts against the Celtics might prove useful.

7:41 - 7:37, First quarter

After Celtics forward Kevin Garnett fed  an entry pass to shooting guard Marquis Daniels, Fisher gave him very little room to penetrate. After Fisher knocked the ball out of Daniels' hands, Bryant picked up the loose ball at the free-throw line and led the break. With Celtics forward Paul Pierce being the only player to get back to front Bryant, he drove into the lane and converted on a runner in front of the basket, cutting the Celtics' lead to 8-7.

7:15 - 7:09, First quarter

After Bryant sagged on defense and allowed Celtics guard Rajon Rondo to hit an open jumper, Bryant brought the ball up the court on the next possession. Lakers center Andrew Bynum set a screen at the top of the key for Bryant, enabling him to drive left with no resistance. With Daniels trailing following Bynum's screen, Bryant nails a jumper inside the three-point line, reducing the Celtics' edge to 10-9.

7:02 - 6:50, First quarter

After Garnett sets a high screen on Artest at the top of the key, Pierce curls around and nails a pull-up jumper at the free-throw line. But on the next possession, Bryant appears just as engaged in scoring again. With Fisher standing on the near-side perimeter, Artest standing on the far side and Gasol standing idly outside of the lane, Bynum attempts to set a pick on Daniels' left at the top of the key. With Garnett fully prepared to switch on Bryant, he instead drives right and pulls up for a 15-footer. The shot hits off the front rim, but with Gasol standing on the far end, no one on the Lakers is there to grab the rebound.

6:14 - 6:03, Second quarter

With Lakers guard Steve Blake manning the point, Bryant performed a V-cut and then flashed up on the far block. As Bryant received a pass from Blake, Lakers forward Lamar Odom flashed to the near-side perimeter, while Artest cut inside. As Bryant squared up on Celtics guard Ray Allen, Shaquille O'Neal prevented Gasol from establishing post position on the far end of the lane. After initially thinking of setting a screen on Allen, Gasol cut back inside but then flashed to the near side as Bryant drove to the far baseline. His bank-in jumper reduced the Celtics' lead to 40-33.

5:45 - 5:39, Second quarter

After Bryant established position on Pierce on the far block, Fisher fed him an entry pass. While Bryant broke in triple-threat position, Artest cut to the outside, Fisher stood up top in case Bryant was double teamed and Gasol and Bynum cut inside to go close to the basket. With 13 seconds on the shot clock, Bryant fired away a 19-footer that rimmed out.

4:50 - 4:43, Second quarter

After Rondo's failed attempt to create contact in the lane resulted in a missed layup off the backboard, Gasol grabbed the rebound and immediately handed the ball to Bryant. He drove the break, weaving past Glen Davis, curling around Shaq, and finished with an and-1, thanks to Davis' goaltending. After Bryant converted on the free throw, the Lakers' cut the deficit to 40-36.

3:37 - 3:29, Second quarter

3:05 - 2:41, Second quarter

With Bryant directing offense on the far-side perimeter, the Lakers appeared to stand once again. Fisher stood on the near-side perimeter, Gasol stood on the far wing, Artest stood at the top of the key and Bynum stood inside. Finally, Gasol decided to cut across the line just below the free-throw line, resulting in Bryant throwing a jump pass to him. Gasol took one dribble, pivoted left and then lost the ball after Garnett poked it out. Gasol retrieved the loose ball and found Bynum open on the far end. Instead of going inside and risking contact from Shaq, Bynum settled for a jumper just outside the paint.

The shot went off the rim, but Gasol tipped the ball out to the perimeter. Bynum quickly retrieved the ball and gave it to Artest at the top of the key. He immediately passed to the far-side perimeter where Bryant stood open for a three-pointer. His successful trey gave the Lakers a 44-42 lead.

2:14 - 2:00 Second quarter

Fisher directed the offense up top, with Bynum standing in the lane, Artest running aimlessly on the far side, Bryant cutting to the near side and Gasol using Bryant's penetration as leverage to receive an open pass on the near block. After not seeing a good look, Gasol passed the ball back up top to Fisher and Bryant flashed to the near perimeter. After receiving the ball from Fisher, Bryant set himself in triple-threat position, Bynum established post position on the near block on Shaq, Artest stood still on the far side and Gasol stood still on the far baseline.

After Bryant denied an entry pass to Bynum, he then cut to the basket anticipating Bryant would drive. That indeed happened, with Bryant driving left past Allen. Instead of feeding into Bynum as Shaq approached Bryant on a double team, Bryant pump faked, created contact and arched a bank-in shot that drew a foul on Shaq. After Bryant converted the free throw, the Lakers led 47-44.

1:14 - 1:02 Second quarter

After Fisher fed Bynum on the near block, Kendrick Perkins, Pierce and Rondo all walled off the paint. Fisher then set a screen at the top of the key on Allen for Bryant, enabling him to catch a dump-off pass from Bynum. Allen immediately caught up to Bryant, however, prompting Bynum to set a screen on Allen's left. That prompted Bryant to drive to his right around the lane. Bynum immediately crashed toward the basket in case he needed to rebound, but Bryant's floater widened the gap to 51-48.

1:03 - :45, Second quarter

On the next possession, Bryant ran the break and noticed a gap on the far side. Garnett extended himself too far out on Odom on the far-side perimeter and no one else shut off the driving lane after Bryant blew by Allen. Garnett immediately slide over, however, but Bryant didn't kick the ball out to an open Odom. He instead tried an ugly reverse under-handed layup that bounced off the backboard. Artest couldn't convert on the put-back, and neither could Bynum, though he drew a foul on Garnett and sank one of two free throws for a 52-48 lead.

11:52 - 11:27, Third quarter

Fisher threw a low pass to the far side for Bynum, preventing him from establishing proper post position on Shaq. With Shaq denying Bynum much maneuvering room on the far side, he kicked the ball out to Bryant at the top of the key while Fisher cut along the far baseline, Gasol cut up to the free throw line and Artest moved on the near side. After Bryant threw Bynum another entry pass after establishing post position, Bynum turned around, dribbled right and appeared to go up for a shot in the lane.

After drawing a double team from Pierce, however, Bynum kicked the ball out to Artest on the near side. He dribbled left and pulled up for an off balance jumper on the left block. Bynum then tipped the missed shot off the glass and Gasol picked up the loose ball. After Gasol fired the ball up top to Fisher, Bryant cut along the wing and found himself open on the nearside perimeter. After receiving a pass from Fisher, Bryant pump faked hoping Garnett would either react by giving him contact or give him a space to drive baseline. He did neither, so Bryant launched a rainbow three-pointer that swished into the net and gave the Lakers a 57-50 lead.

10:33 - 10:22, Third quarter

At the top of the key, Fisher passed to Gasol on the far end, causing Artest to cut along the free throw line and Bynum to set a down screen on Allen. Bryant then flashed up to the near side and received a pass from Gasol. Bynum then went up to set a screen on Allen, giving Bryant space to drive right. With Fisher, Artest and Gasol all on the weak side and Bynum lacking enough leverage to cut to the basket, Bryant settled for a runner with nine seconds left on the shot clock. The shot hit off the front rim and Boston grabbed the rebound.

7:47 - 7:43, Third quarter

With eight seconds left on the shot clock, Lakers forward Luke Walton inbounded the ball to Bryant up top. He dribbled left and settled for a 17-foot bank that hit off the rim. Meanwhile, Odom stood at the free-throw line, Fisher stood at the near side, Gasol stood in the paint and Walton stood on the far side.

2:54 - 2:49, Third quarter

At first he looked to throw an entry pass to Artest inside, but instead opted for Bryant at the top of the key. Before anyone had time to make a cut, Bryant launched a three-pointer over Allen that cut Boston's lead to 72-70.

2:09 - 1:58, Third quarter

After Fisher threw a bounce pass to Artest on the near side, he drove the lane but met a double team from Pierce and Perkins. In turn, Artest fed a wraparound pass to Bynum, who then met the Pierce-Perkins double team. With only five seconds on the shot clock, Bynum threw the ball up top to Bryant, who fired a three-pointer that hit the back iron. Fisher attacked the glass, but his tip over Garnett went out of bounds.

1:06 - :59, Third quarter

With 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Shannon Brown inbounded the ball to Bryant on the far end. With Blake, Gasol, Odom and Brown all shifting to the weak side, Bryant squared up and tried to go one-on-one with Pierce. Bryant threw a jab step, used his pivot foot to post up, drove right, picked up his dribble, pulled up and made a 16-footer. Bryant's shot cut the Celtics' lead to 74-72. Said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy: "That's a clinic right there for younger players on footwork, how to create separation with pivot and economic use of a dribble."

:38 - :29, Third quarter

With Brown manning the point, Gasol set himself in post position on the near side against Perkins.  Bryant cut up toward the top of the key after Blake set a downscreen for him on Pierce. With Rondo sagging off Brown to deny the entry pass to Gasol, Brown instead passed to Bryant at the top of the key. Bryant squared up, drove left, dribbled the ball between his legs, spun left at the free-throw line and pulled up for a fadeaway that airballed. Bryant should be faulted for not seeing Blake wide open on the far-side perimeter, but Gasol should also be faulted for just watching Bryant go to work while not making himself open inside.

11:19 - 11:02, Fourth quarter

After Brown brought the ball up the floor, Rondo shut him off from penetrating. Brown then kicked the ball up to Blake near the timeline. Once Blake one-timed the ball to Odom on the near side, Brown flashed to the paint and then cut to the near-side wing while Gasol set a downscreen on Allen to open up Bryant. Odom fed the ball to Bryant as he cut across the free-throw line. Allen immediately knocked the ball out of bounds once Bryant caught it. With 15 seconds left on the shot clock, Blake inbounded the ball to Brown at the top of the key. He then fed Bryant on the far-side post, while Blake cut to the near-side perimter and Odom and Gasol stood idly on the weakside. Bryant squared up in triple-threat position, dribbled left and pulled up for a jumper that hit off the front rim. As Bryant jumped in the air, Odom cut into the paint to position himself to get the rebound, but Davis boxed him out. Without much resistance, Perkins blocked out Gasol, who had no chance to grab the board.

7:06 - 6:58, Fourth quarter

The play on the Lakers' prior possession prompted ESPN analyst Mark Jackson to argue Bryant needed to run the offense by himself. After Odom fed Gasol an entry past on the far side, Gasol dribbled left, stopped at the baseline and spun for an off-balance fallaway. It appeared Gasol was shying away from the physical contact. Said Jackson: "If I'm Kobe Bryant, I shoot more. After watching that last post move by Pau Gasol against Glen 'Big Baby' Davis, that's a soft move. If I'm Bryant, I'm thinking, 'Get me the basketball and we're running the offense through me.'" Moments later, Blake fed Bryant on the far-side perimeter. After catching the ball, Bryant drove left past Pierce, dribbled through his legs and then posted up on him in the lane. After creating separation on his postup, Bryant turned around and converted on an eight-foot shot. The look proved to be the best at the time, considering Blake and Brown were only open on the near-side and far-side perimeter, respectively, and Gasol and Odom stood aimlessly in the lane. But it illustrated the dichotomy throughout the game. Said Van Gundy: "This is unusual Laker offense. They have 30 baskets now, nine assists, because there's been more isolation. That to me, while it's an outstanding individual move, you really can't count on that to be great." Responded  Mark Jackson: "You're right. You can't count on it. But if I'm Kobe Bryant, it gives me the best chances because the big guys are playing soft. I know I can't count on the other guys."

6:11, Fourth quarter

After Pierce fouled Bryant with 14 seconds left on the shot clock, he inbounded the ball to Brown up top. After Brown and Gasol one-timed it to each other around the perimeter, Brown fed Bryant on the far side. Meanwhile, Blake cut along the baseline and Bynum tried establishing post position. There Gasol stood just waiting on the near side. With no other openings, Bryant took a three-point shot that hit off the rim.

5:54 - 5:31, Fourth quarter

On the next possession, Bryant dribbled left past Pierce in the lane and converted on a leaner that cut Boston's lead to 91-85. What's interesting about this possession is the entire team remaining on the weak side. With neither Bynum nor Gasol establishing post position, Bryant simply did everything on his own.

5:29 - 5:20 Fourth quarter

After Bynum grabbed a rebound, he pushed the ball up to Blake. After crossing the timeline, Blake immediately found Bryant on the near side. The Lakers were again set up in isolation. As Gasol flashed to the weak side with Brown, Blake attempted to set a screen on Pierce's right side, which threw him off as Bryant drove past his left shoulder along the baseline. He met a double team from Davis and Garnett, but his pump fake proved good enough. His up-and-under move cut the Lakers' deficit to 91-87.

4:51 - 4:41, Fourth quarter

As Garnett guarded Gasol tightly on the near side, Bryant posted up along the wing. Gasol fed him a dangerous bounce pass that Rondo almost stole. Despite drawing a double team from Pierce and Rondo, Bryant declined to pass the ball to Blake on the near-side perimeter. Meanwhile, Gasol cut to the weak side to allow Bryant to work in isolation and Bynum stood on the far side just outside the paint. After Bryant pulled up for a turnaround jumper over Allen, Gasol rushed to the paint but Garnett grabbed the rebound over him.

What this means

I've often argued that the ongoing debate over whether Bryant's scoring mentality contributes to the team's passivity or the team's passivity prompts Bryant to take over rests on a game-by-game basis. With Bryant shooting 16 for 29 from the field and everyone else hitting very few shots, he really had no choice but to try to win the game by himself. The Lakers, however, are much better-served by having a balanced offense. The disparity in assists between the Celtics (34) and Lakers (10) further validates that claim. As Jackson and Gasol acknowledged, however, team balance happens when everyone is fully engaged in the game. There's very little use in Bryant passing the ball to a teammate who isn't shooting well. It's also interesting how the offensive dynamic worked throughout the game. The first three quarters showed Bryant's willingness to score and facilitate, but Bryant mostly scored for three chief reasons: The Lakers often created few open looks; they were too deep in the shot clock; and Bryant's efficient footwork, quick moves and shooting stroke helped him find good opportunities. The context changed in the fourth quarter, however. Bryant's teammates actually enabled him to take over even more in the fourth quarter because each pass to him immediately was followed with a cut to the weak side. Whether that was part of Bryant's demands, his teammates' reluctance to shoot the ball or instructions from Jackson, both Bryant and his teammates appear very willing to follow that strategy.

--Mark Medina

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