Kobe Bryant's dominating performance in 113-96 victory over New York shows how it can lift team's collective effort
Since it came down to Kobe Bryant showing eagerness to go one-on-one to close out the first quarter, it's usually best to give him as much open space as possible. New York Knicks guard Raymond Felton appeared aware of Bryant's attempt to throw him off balance as the All-Star guard worked the dribble. Felton maintained his discipline, not to be thrown off by Bryant's crafty and shifty footwork and ballhandling ability. It still didn't matter. Bryant drove toward the lane, established his pivot foot, spun around and sank a 19-foot jumper as time expired.
We've seen this script before, the latest being in the Lakers' 113-96 victory Friday over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. His 33 points on 12-of-17 shooting marked the third time in six games he's dropped at least 30. His outburst against New York is far from new, considering he entered the last four contests against the Knicks averaging 42 points, including a Madison Square Garden record 61-point effort two years ago. And Friday night's effort followed the Lakers' six-point victory against Boston on Thursday night when he scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half.
It's not important that Bryant continuously scored at will, although it was entertaining to see Bryant follow up on his missed layup after Pau Gasol set him up on a backdoor cut with a rainbow shot. It's important how the Lakers responded to Bryant's scoring streak, an approach that will ensure continuous development as the Lakers (38-16) improved to 4-0 on their current seven-game trip, marked their fifth win out of the last six games and reduced the gap for first place in the Westen Conference to 6 1/2 games behind San Antonio (44-9).
What do I mean by how they responded? Well, first consider the players' movement when Bryant continued riding his hot hand. When Bryant closed out the first quarter, everyone stood in different parts of the court in isolation, but Bryant's teammates looked surely engaged. Before he closed out his 19-point first-quarter effort, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown remained in triple-threat position on both sides of the perimeter in case Bryant needed an outlet. As Bryant pulled up for his fadeaway, Gasol rushed to the glass in case he could close out with a put-back. Earlier, a pull-up three-pointer sent Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest to the boards, as did a pull-up jumper on the far side. When Bryant attempted his high-arching follow shot, there Lamar Odom was at the glass to pick up the rebound if needed.
Sure, there were a few lapses. Odom and Gasol didn't prevent a tip-in before the Lakers ended halftime with a 62-48 lead. Gasol appeared to settle for mid-range jumpers despite going up against a defensesless Amare Stoudemire. Though Bynum continued to remind the Lakers of his worth with a 12-point, nine-rebound effort on five-of-eight shooting, he demonstrated his lift still remains a work in progress. And the Lakers' double-digit lead dwindled to 71-62 with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter. But no matter. Bryant's turnaround shot, three-pointer and running hook in the next 4 1/2 minutes helped put the game away, enabling him to sit out the entire fourth quarter.
If anything, the Lakers' effort against New York continued a pattern on this latest trip where a balanced offense proves the necessary ingredient to ensure success. But that doesn't always show up in the statistics, such as field-goal attempts, number of assists or touches. It points to the moments when Bryant's teammates appear just as engaged offensively during his scoring spree as they would if he facilitated. It points to the moments when the Lakers continued to secure the lead when Bryant sat out through quick ball movement, timely cutting and sharp passing. And it points to Lakers' ability to adapt to both scenarios interchangeably.
The formula has proven effective so far on this trip. There's no reason why it can't stay that way.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant pulls up for a jumper over Knicks guard Danilo Gallinari in the second half Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Frank Franklin II / Associated Press