Next time Kobe Bryant should probably save his patented I’m-better-than-you strut until the final buzzer.
The Los Angeles Lakers, somehow, managed to cough up a 16-point third quarter lead en route to a 94-96 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night. In the process, they also lost any semblance of a homecourt and mental advantage they may have had over their opponents.
Bryant was great in spurts, but awful late. Still, despite a turnover and a mess of a sequence which led to another turnover, the Lakers captain had a shot at winning Game 1 for his club. Catching the ball with about three seconds remaining, he opted to take a three-pointer in rhythm -- when a two would have sufficed -- which subsequently clanked off the rim.
When it was all said and done, Bryant had 36 points on 29 shots, and no assists. Aside from Lamar Odom, the rest of L.A. wet the bed. A nice big one, too. One that you can’t just put a towel over. It was terrible.
Which begs the question: What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Or, as it's known in Lakerland, did the rest of the team -- aside from Odom -- not give Bryant enough help, or did he not do enough to involve them?
Odom had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and really served as the team’s only bright spot with Bryant off the court. He created his own shot, played hard and at the very least, tried to keep up with Dirk Nowitzki on the other end. While nobody will ever confuse the 2011 Sixth Man of the Year for being the epitome of consistency, he did his part.
The rest of the team, not so much.
Pau Gasol had 15 points and 11 rebounds to go along with one of the most bone-headed late-game fouls on Nowitzki that you will ever see in your life. He was absolutely useless in the fourth quarter, continuing to revert to the marshmallow form we’ve come to expect from him in 2011. Forget Black Swan/White Swan, he’s like the chair that was in the room during the Natalie Portman-Mila Kunis scene -- irrelevant and unworthy of serious attention.
Ron Artest was another one that made you shake your head. If he wasn’t awkwardly running up and down the floor while Bryant was doing work, or getting in between a non-confrontation that Gasol and Tyson Chandler had, he could have easily gone unnoticed. His 1-for-8 performance will hardly evoke fear in the Mavericks when they’re ratcheting up their defense in the coming games.
And Derek Fisher -- after looking like he was going to have his one-good-game-every-other-series games on Tuesday night -- broke a hip or something during halftime, and wasn’t heard from during the second half. Eight points on 3-for-6 shooting was his total impact, by the time the final buzzer sounded.
The Lakers bench, as usual, deserves its share of the blame. They got outscored 40-25 for the outing.
But the worst, the absolute worst gaffes on Tuesday night came courtesy of arguably the greatest coach in the history of the sport. Unlike most, I’m fine with the Phil Jackson’s disbursement of minutes. He knows his players; he knows when they will be at their most efficient. If he wants to sit Bryant and play the reserves for a greater amount of time than he plays his marquee star, more power to him.
But that sequence to close out the game where Gasol fouled Nowitzki behind the three-point line -- that was awful strategizing on full display. What was Jackson trying to accomplish by sending the flat-footed Spaniard to guard Nowitzki out there? It was a classic example of doing the stupidest thing possible to confuse your opponents, only to accomplish a big whopping nothing.
The lack of effectiveness by Andrew Bynum? That was all Jackson, again. Obviously Nowitzki poses match-up problems, and as a result of said problems, it’s hard to keep Gasol and Bynum on the floor at the same time. Fine, understood. That being said, the same scenario could be a problem for the Mavs too. A Chandler-Nowitzki tandem is hardly the recipe to stop both of the Lakers big men -- if Bynum were to get the right number of touches that is.
Everyone is entitled to a bad game, coaches included, but that doesn’t mean it should go unnoticed. And it also doesn’t mean that the criticism should automatically be shifted to Bryant because of three bad breaks to close out the game and/or the shots he felt he had to take.
Afterwards, Kobe was Kobe, and didn't exactly step up to accept blame for the loss:
"It had nothing to do with me," he said. "There've been games where I shot the ball 30 times and Pau's has big offensive games in those games. I'm gonna do what I do. I think the second unit and that crew we gotta make a conscious effort to get the ball into Pau, get the ball into Andrew. But it had nothing to do with me. ...It had nothing to do with my shots."
It seems like for this Lakers team, if it isn’t rough it isn’t fun. They make it a point to carve out the most difficult path to winning, and then set out on the journey to a title along that path with a blindfold on.
They’ll either really earn their third consecutive championship this season or they'll keep playing like they have been.
But hey, if nothing else, at least the Lakers still have their championship confidence, right?
"I'm highly concerned," Bryant said after the game. "This team can beat us. It's clear."