Dissecting Kobe Bryant's aggressive play in Lakers' 101-94 victory over Thunder
Time and again, Kobe Bryant's expressions told the whole story.
He clenched his teeth after nailing a contested jumper. He scolded and then encouraged Pau Gasol after bobbling a pass. He barked orders to Ron Artest on where to move within the offense. And he let out grunts as he attacked the rim with a verve that harks back to his young years.
The Lakers' 101-94 victory Monday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder featured Bryant scoring 21 points on seven-for-12 shooting, dishing out seven assists and hauling down five rebounds with a perfectly nuanced method. He forced Thunder defenders to take his outside shot seriously. He burned the OKC frontline for allowing him to drive the lane. He exploited mismatches by setting up various teammates, including Gasol (21 points), Lamar Odom (16 points), Derek Fisher (season-high 15 points), Andrew Bynum (10) and Artest (seven points).
"He got the right guys going," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant.
Below the jump, I document how.
8:14 - 8:03, First quarter
After Lakers center Bynum grabbed a rebound of Russell Westbrook's missed seven-footer, Fisher ran the ball up the floor. He fired a cross-court pass to Gasol, who pulled up for a set shot from just outside the lane. Bryant sneaked inside past OKC center Nenad Krstic and grabbed the rebound with a one-hand extension. Instead of settling for a contested shot in traffic, Bryant posted up on the near baseline and positioned himself so he could see the floor. Bynum cut across the lane, causing Bryant to dart a quick pass inside. Bynum then converted a thunderous dunk to give the Lakers a 9-6 lead. Remarked TNT analyst Mike Fratello: "Did Kobe push off somebody's shoulders or something in getting that one? I haven't seen him jump that high in a while."
5:20 - 5:13, Second quarter
After Bryant swung the ball to Artest on the near side, James Harden marked him while Nick Collison cut off the baseline. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant sagged back so that Gasol couldn't receive an easy look inside. That left Bryant open at the top of the key. After Artest kicked the ball out to Bryant, Durant confronted him up top. With a simple head fake and jab step, Bryant dribbled left and pulled up for a 21-footer. The slight hesitation threw Durant off guard, giving Bryant enough space to swish the shot, giving the Lakers a 41-39 lead with 5:13 remaining. Said TNT analyst Steve Kerr: "A mistake by Durant defensively. ... You can't chase Kobe at the three-point line. Let him make some out there. Once he puts it on the floor and is down inside, he's almost automatic."
3:45 - 3:40, Second quarter
With Bryant at the top of the key, Bynum set a pick on Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, allowing Bryant to drive the lane and weave between defenders as if he were driving around traffic cones. He dribbled to his left after Westbrook confronted him on the strong side and then attempted a runner. Sefolosha blocked the shot from behind, but Bryant retrieved the ball. He then pump-faked twice before shooting over Durant, causing him to go off balance and create contact.
2:15 - 1:54, second quarter
This play truly illustrated how effective ball movement creates offensive opportunities, and Bryant's court vision allowed him to make the right reads on a dime. A swing pass from Artest to Odom to Bryant resulted in Gasol's setting a pick on the near side on Sefolosha. Bryant drove right around Gasol, met Durant at the free-throw line and weaved through the Durant-Sefolosha double team with a spin move into the lane. Durant, Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka collapsed on Bryant in the paint, leaving Gasol open on the near side. Bryant hurled the ball over his left shoulder to Gasol, who converted an open one-handed dunk, giving the Lakers a 52-49 lead.
1:41 - 1:27, Second quarter
After Bryant rebounded Durant's missed jumper, he directed the offense only to be met by Sefolosha at the left block. After Bryant dribbled between his legs and switched to his right, Odom and Gasol left the paint to create an open lane for him as all of OKC's defenders marked the front line. Bryant needed only one dribble to his right to beat Sefolosha. As Ibaka and Krstic flooded the lane, Bryant exploded to the rim for a two-handed jam that harked back to images when he wore No. 8.
:29 - 22, Second quarter
Giving the Thunder little time to properly set up on defense, Gasol set a high pick on Sefolosha for Bryant. Sefolosha cut through the screen and Westbrook picked him up on help defense on the left block. Gasol set another screen on Sefolosha on his left side, but with Westbrook marking Fisher on the perimeter, Ibaka guarding Odom along the baseline and Durant keeping an eye on Artest on the near side, Bryant had an open lane to drive. Sefolosha denied him penetration, however, and OKC's defense regrouped by flooding the paint. Instead, Bryant stepped back at the top of the key, drove left into the middle and finished with a right-handed layup, widening the Lakers' lead to 58-53.
9:45 - 9:38, Third quarter
Out in transition, Bryant gained leverage on Sefolosha and had enough space to drive toward the left part of the lane. As he demonstrated all night, however, Sefolosha caught up to Bryant just before Collison met him with a double team. No matter. In midair, Bryant fired a cross-court pass to the near side corner to Fisher, whose three-pointer gave the Lakers a 63-59 advantage.
4:45 - 5:01 third quarter
This sequence epitomized how crucial it was to communicate and play help defense, an ingredient that didn't necessarily stop Westbrook (32 points) and Durant (24) from scoring, but an approach that helped minimize the damage. After Durant set a pick on Bryant's left, Artest immediately picked up Westbrook. That denied Westbrook dribble penetration on the perimeter. As soon as Durant received a pass at the top of the key, he was met with a double team from Bryant and Artest. That opened up Westbrook on the far side for an open pass, but Artest swiped the ball from him as soon as he drove the lane.
Bryant picked up the loose ball and veered to the far-side corner since OKC immediately hustled back on defense. With Harden picking him up, Bryant posted on him, pump faked three times and then elevated for a fall-away jumper. The shot gave the Lakers a 76-61 lead.
6:35 - 6:28, Fourth quarter
After receiving a pass from Artest on the near side, Bryant squared up against Harden. In triple-threat position, Bryant jab stepped, swung the ball from side to side near his ankles, pump faked right, dribbled left and then nailed a 16-foot jumper. The shot prompted Bryant to clench his teeth and widened the gap to 94-85.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hangs on the rim after dunking against the Thunder in the second quarter Monday night. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times