Bryant Comes Down to Earth Against Celtics

BOSTON – How great has Kobe Bryant been against the Celtics since Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston? Not as great as you might think.

Bryant hasn’t missed a beat over the past five seasons despite cracking the top 15 in all-time minutes played. He has won two titles over that time span and averaged at least 25.3 points per game during each campaign. Against the Celtics, however, he’s been much more human. Bryant’s statistics against Boston have been lower than his season averages in every major statistical category since 2007-08.

There is one exception to that statement, and that would be Bryant’s minutes played. He has actually averaged more playing time against the Celtics (40.1 minutes per game) than he has overall during each of those seasons (37.2 minutes per game).

Kobe Bryant
Los Angeles Lakers

* Below is a comparison of Kobe Bryant's averages against the Boston Celtics and his overall averages since 2007-08.

Versus Celtics Overall Averages
26.6 PTS 27.1
43.8 FG% 45.1
5.3 REB 5.5
4.1 AST 4.9
40.1 MIN 37.2

That key fact that can lead us to a very important observation, that while Bryant’s minutes have increased against the Celtics, his production has trended in the opposite direction.

Making a major statement like that about a player of Bryant’s stature is a testament to Boston’s incredible defense and game-changing philosophy. Limiting the numbers of a very good player is one thing, but decreasing the numbers of one of the greatest basketball players ever as his playing time simultaneously increases? That’s unheard of.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this story.

Garnett was acquired prior to the 2007-08 season – the season in which Boston took down Los Angeles in embarrassing fashion en route to its 17th title – and that’s when the Celtics began making life difficult on stars like Bryant. Bryant figured out pretty quickly that things would now be different while facing off against the men in green.

The Celtics and Lakers faced off twice during the 2007-08 regular season and Bryant struggled to put the ball through the basket. He made just 32.6 percent of his shots while scoring 25.0 points per game. Compare those numbers to his season averages of 28.3 PPG and 45.9 percent shooting and you can begin to understand the magnitude of Bryant’s statistical drop off against the C’s.

What Boston did that season was turn Bryant into a high-volume shooter who was very inefficient at scoring the basketball. That’s been the case, for the most part, ever since.

Bryant has faced the Celtics nine times during the regular season since the start of the 2007-08 season. He has averaged 26.6 PPG during those contests, which is a half-point drop off from what he averaged overall during those five seasons. More importantly, Bryant had to work his tail off for every point he tallied.

Bryant made just 43.8 percent of his shots against the Celtics during those last nine regular season meetings. That number would be drastically lower if Bryant hadn’t logged two successful games against Boston in 2010-11, when he shot 54.3 percent against the C’s. Even with that two-game explosion, his overall shooting percentage against Boston was in a range that is typically reserved for mediocre NBA shooting guards.

When you play good enough defense to put the name “Kobe Bryant” and the word “mediocre” in the same sentence, you’re doing a pretty good job. Chip in the fact that Bryant’s rebounds and assists have dropped as well, and you’ve got a pretty incredible defensive accomplishment.

As the saying goes, you can’t stop a player like Bryant, you can only hope to contain him. Judging by the numbers from the last five seasons, the Celtics have done a pretty good job of limiting his greatness.