With every victory, the Lakers look more and more likely to open the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in a first-round series against San Antonio. You can see the lead storyline starting to develop as well with Kobe Bryant and Bruce Bowen doing battle.
Bryant is the games unquestioned top scorer after his run of 50-point games. Bowen is the player Bryant has credited with being the toughest defender he faces. That in itself is remarkable because Bryant rarely gives any defender credit.
In fact, Bryant called the Spurs “the perfect storm when he stopped by his old high school earlier this month, for having the top defender in Bowen and playing the best defense as a team. It would all come together in a must-watch series.
Which brings me to Sundays game and the end of Bryants streak, which might have been a good thing with a dozen games left in the season. I think Bryant and Phil Jackson both know how small their chances would be of beating the Spurs with Bryant alone.
The first, second, third and fourth orders of business for the Lakers is finding any way to shore up their defense. Theyve given up 100 points or more in the last 10 games, including 113 to the Warriors on Sunday.
Which team do you think has the edge in this series: The one giving up 83.5 points per game in the past month or the one giving up 110.3 points per game in that same time? Well see just what the Spurs hold the Warriors to when they play Monday.
Thats why its so important for the Lakers to do what they did in the fourth quarter, which was fill in around Bryant, grab offensive rebounds, block shots and generally do all the little things they needed to win.
Bryant didnt score a basket in the final four minutes of a win. Thats a good sign looking ahead. He said so himself: “Its always a team effort, even though I scored 40 points or 50 points, whatever it is. You have to have your teammates playing well in such a case.
Lamar Odom came up with the big rebound and made the key free throws at the end. Even though he had two turnovers in the fourth, he also stripped Al Harrington and took it the other way for a basket with 4:05 left.
The Lakers searched all game for a big man and Ronny Turiaf came through in the fourth. He had seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in the fourth and dove to the floor after his own missed free throw late.
Walton assisted on two of Turiafs baskets and Shammond Williams knocked down a big 3-pointer after Monta Ellis coughed up the ball in the backcourt. Jackson went with Williams the whole fourth quarter with the unit playing well and Smush Parker still hurt.
Whenever Bryant talks about San Antonio, he uses his favorite word “execution to suggest that everything must be done perfectly. The more contributions the Lakers get from players other than Bryant, the deeper they might be able to push the Spurs.
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As Odom predicted in the locker room, the Warriors would say afterward that they did a good job holding Bryant to 43 on Sunday. (If thats not the definition of a Most Valuable Player, by the way, I dont know what is.) Heres Al Harrington afterward:
“For the most part, we did a good job, Harrington said. “I mean, he had (17) in the first quarter and finished with 43, so obviously we did some type of a job on him.
If you subtract his burst in the first two minutes, Bryant would have had 34 points on 11-of-29 shooting. From my seat, Stephen Jackson put up a good fight in overplaying Bryant to deny him the ball. The Warriors also took away a couple of early lobs over the top.
Well see how Memphis plays Bryant on Tuesday after the 60 he unloaded on them last week.
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Its an admission of how much his shoulder is causing problems for him, but Lamar Odom said of the two free throws he hit with 18.1 seconds left, “They were luck. As soon as he falls out of rhythm, Odom says he can feel his shoulder tightening up.
Perhaps more impressive were the two free throws he hit at the end of the second quarter. Odom was clobbered trying to follow up his own miss in the lane and got hit in his left arm by both Josh Powell and Matt Barnes.
Jackson called a 20-second timeout and Odom extended only his right arm for his teammates, who were trying to help him back to his feet. He made 8 of 10 free throws for the night and had 24 points.
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Bryant was called for his 12th technical foul of the season in the first quarter. Another four technicals in the final 12 games and Bryant would serve a one-game suspension under the NBAs unofficial Rasheed Wallace rule.
“No more suspensions for me, Bryant said afterward.
He played the first quarter in a fury and was irate after he thought he was hit in the face by Jason Richardson on a jumper. Bryant later was assessed the technical by referee Michael Smith after he argued that Richardson made contact with his arm on a jumper.
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I dont know if Chamberlains 100-point game ever will be equaled, but I think everyone in Staples Center thought Bryant had a chance after the first two minutes. It would take a start like that and multiple overtimes for Bryant (or anybody else) to even have a shot.
Bryant scored 17 of the Lakers first 24 points in Sundays game. Its been barely mentioned recently but Jackson is going to have to cut down Bryants minutes somehow leading up to the playoffs. He played another 46:22 against the Warriors.
As for those missed free throws in the last 20 seconds, Bryant said he changed the release on his shot – - how he flicks his wrist – - in recent games and went back to his old form. He had made 63 of 67 free throws before that, which computes to 94 percent.
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Here’s the list of the most consecutive 40-point games in NBA history. Bryant’s not through in the record book department yet.
1. Wilt Chamberlain 14 games (twice) 1961-62
3. Wilt Chamberlain 10 games 1962-63
4. Kobe Bryant 9 games 2002-03
4. Michael Jordan 9 games 1986-87
6. Wilt Chamberlain 8 games 1961-62
7. Wilt Chamberlain 7 games (twice) 1962-63
9. Kobe Bryant 5 games 2006-07
9. Allen Iverson 5 games 1996-97
9. Elgin Baylor 5 games 1962-63
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You had two four-point plays in Sunday’s game, one from Sasha Vujacic and another from Bryant. The Warriors also set what I believe is a record for a Lakers opponent by taking 15 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
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By Ross Siler
At the end of the night, Lakers coach Phil Jackson could joke about Kobe Bryant having an “off game, Lamar Odom could remind reporters that “43 aint bad and Wilt Chamberlain could rest a little easier, wherever he was. [ep
If the Lakers were wondering what would happen when Bryants streak of 50-point games came to an end, they got the answer Sunday night when Bryant scored a mortal 43 points in a 115-113 victory over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center. [ep
The run of 50-point games came to an end at four – - although Bryants streak of five straight 40-point games is tied for the ninth-longest in history – - and the Lakers still stretched their season-best winning streak to five games.
“I think it energized us as a team, it energized the city, and I think thats great, Bryant said. “Before that, it seemed like we were kind of dead in the water in terms of energy, in terms of belief in the city of what we could do.
“It seemed to kind of do a 180. Were playing with a lot more energy now.
The Lakers had to come from 10 points down in the fourth quarter, after squandering a 19-point lead in the first half, and survived despite committing a season-high 26 turnovers. They also stayed two games in front of Denver for sixth in the playoff race.
As proof of how much Sunday was a team victory, however, consider that the biggest play was made not by Bryant but by Odom instead. It was Odom who grabbed the rebound after Bryant missed a free throw with 19.6 seconds left.
And it was Odom who stepped to the line and sank both free throws to give the Lakers a 114-110 lead. That was enough of a cushion for the Lakers to survive as Golden States Al Harrington couldnt get off a potential winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Odom finished with 24 points and matched a career-high with 19 rebounds. Bryant joked that Odom lost a bet by coming one rebound short of a 20-20 game. Yet Odoms play with a torn labrum in his left shoulder was remarkable.
He took a blow to the shoulder at the end of the first half, a frightening reminder of an injury that likely will require surgery this summer. Free-throw shooting also has been anything but easy for Odom since his return.
“I always tell people, when the game is going and the adrenalines pumping, the ball gets swung, I can shoot it from anywhere, Odom said. “But when it kind of stops, I have to refocus and it tightens up.
Bryant had made 63 of 67 free throws before he missed two in the final 20 seconds. He finished with 43 points on 15-of-33 shooting with seven turnovers in 46 minutes, in addition to starting the comeback with a 3-pointer and fast-break jumper in the fourth.
The Warriors, who had won seven of nine games before Sunday, did everything in their power to stop Bryant. Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis spent the most time on Bryant, overplaying to deny him the ball and double-teaming at every turn.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter with a series of three turnovers, as Bryant stepped out of bounds, Andrew Bynum couldnt hang onto a pass and Ronny Turiaf forced a pass to Bryant, a classic example of what Phil Jackson calls “Kobe-dar.
But the Lakers regrouped and scored 14 unanswered points. Turiaf finished with seven points, four rebound(s) and two blocks in the final quarter, grabbing the offensive rebound off a Bryant miss with 1:02 left and blocking Monta Ellis in the final minute.
During the streak, Bryant bristled at the suggestion that the other Lakers were his “supporting cast. Odom said the hardest thing was not to watch the one-man show and continue to stay aggressive. They did just that in the fourth quarter Sunday.
“It was a pretty good team effort and I think it shows that we are multi-dimensional, Turiaf said. “We have Kobe in the forefront and we have the soldiers in the back.
Even the most memorable of Bryants games never started with the thunderclap that Sundays did. Bryant had the crowd on its feet and roaring as he hit his first four shots and scored nine points in barely two minutes.
Bryants determination was evident with his first basket, in which he grabbed the offensive rebound after a Luke Walton miss, then drove baseline and pushed in a hanging shot with his left hand. He came back and hit a 27-foot 3-pointer after that.
After the game, Bryant said he would wait until the summer to put his streak in perspective. He still has a game Tuesday against a Memphis team that he lit up for 60 points last week.
But Bryant was able to laugh when asked if he wished he could have matched Chamberlains record of seven straight 50-point games from December 1961, a season in which Chamberlain averaged a record 50.4 points per game.
“He just seems to be a guy thats not human, Bryant said. “The records and the things that hes accomplished are beyond miraculous. For me to be in the same breath with him, even if its just a short little breath, is pretty cool.