Posted Jun 10 2010 9:36AM
BOSTON -- The ultimate irony, the ultimate assault on the senses, is that the two most important shots of the Kobe Bryant postseason are misses. His short jumper in the final seconds of Game 6 against the Thunder became the offensive rebound Pau Gasol turned into the basket that ended the opening round. And his twisting Hail Mary in Game 5 against the Suns was transformed into Ron Artest's redemption bucket at the buzzer that turned the Western Conference finals toward the Lakers.
So, right on time, his errant shooting becomes a Finals storyline. Because the Celtics have been unable to take advantage. Because Bryant is having a positive impact in other ways, mostly just by being Kobe Bryant.
Bryant is shooting 39.4 percent and the Lakers have a 2-1 lead anyway. He is a volume shooter in the biggest series of the season, Phil Jackson is making public note of it, and it's like no one notices.
In another time -- say, any one of a few thousand days over the past decade -- Jackson suggesting Bryant needs better shot selection would have moved the locker room to DEFCON 2. Now, it is the ultimate sign of how well things are going for the Lakers in this blood oath of a matchup, Los Angeles has moved in front and retaken home-court advantage without its star truly being heard from. Imagine if he really gets going.
He hasn't been bad. The 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists are obviously major contributions, as is the defense against the explosive Rajon Rondo and the occasionally dangerous Ray Allen. But this isn't close to Bryant at his offensive best.
"I wouldn't say necessarily [it is] a level of satisfaction," Bryant said. "I think it goes to the point we've been saying all year long, that you win championships with your defense and rebounding. I think that's something that we continue to talk about, we continue to stress. Shots come and go, you make some, you miss some, but you've got to stay after them on the defensive end. You have to rebound those misses."
The Lakers are shooting 44.8 percent even with Bryant at 39.4, Artest at 29.2 -- 29.2! -- and Derek Fisher at 39.3. That's three starters. But they're also holding the Celtics to 43.3 from the field and 92 points a game.
"We're down 2-1 because we're not shooting the ball particularly well either," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Kobe does so many other things, though. [Tuesday], he struggled from the field, but he did make a lot of plays. I think people fail to realize the reason a lot of the other guys are open is because Kobe Bryant is on the floor."
Not exactly to be a decoy either. Bryant took 22 shots in the opener (eight more than any Laker, six more than anyone on either team), 20 in Game 2 (twice as many as any teammate, tied for the most on the court) and 29 on Tuesday (17 more than any Laker, 13 more than anybody). He had squeezed off 29 only one other time in the playoffs -- in the Oklahoma City series -- so Kobe is not going for reserved.
And he keeps on missing.
"They're getting up underneath him on his shot," Jackson said. "He's got a hard time getting a clear lift on his shot. It keeps him from turning his body, so he can't get the right turn a lot of times on it, and they've done a good job [on defense]. He made a couple key baskets for us [in Game 3]. Got 29 points -- 29 shots to get it. So I know they're going to be happy with that. He's got to get better productivity out of it, and he knows that."
Wednesday afternoon, before the Celtics practiced at TD Garden, Glen Davis was asked about the Kobe predicament. You have done a pretty good job, the reserve big man was told, of keeping Bryant away from taking over the Finals, obviously one of Boston's goals. But it's still Lakers, 2-1.
"Kobe's not shooting well for a reason," Davis said. "The first game he played well, the other game he didn't play as well, he didn't shoot well the last game, because we've been doing a better job of defense on him. At the same time, we've got to win ballgames. Kobe's shooting the ball 29 times, we've gotta win. That means he's not scoring and they're winning, so somebody else on the other team is scoring. Derek Fisher did a great job last game of carrying his team to the win. We've got to take advantage of that."
The Celtics haven't done that so far. They have Kobe Bryant at 39.4 percent and can't feel good about it. Speaking of ultimate ironies.
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