Tomorrow’s story tonight …
The playoffs were once the exclusive Lakers domain of superstar guard Kobe Bryant. Anything and everything seemed to be centered on him, and his teammates were simply along for the ride as the Lakers charged through the postseason.
It worked well enough while they won two championships in three trips to the NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010. He won consecutive Finals MVP awards while guiding the Lakers to victories over the Orlando Magic in ’09 and the Boston Celtics in ’10.
New postseason, new routine.
Bryant has encouraged — or maybe demanded — the rest of the team step up. They are no longer a supporting cast, acting as his wingmen, but active participants because he trusts them and knows they can play to a higher level.
Certainly, it was evident as the Lakers edged away from the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. Bryant asked his teammates to do more, and they delivered during a comprehensive 103-88 victory.
“You have to force the game on them,” Bryant said. “It’s very easy sometimes when a player has a lot of talent to want to do everything, but that’s not going to get it done. You have to have everybody on the floor making decisions.
“In turn, it makes us a better team.”
Bryant has been after his teammates to accept larger roles all season, but especially after a left shin injury sidelined him for seven games earlier this month. He sat on the bench and played the role of an assistant coach, tutoring and mentoring.
Even two of the newest Lakers got the message.
“He told me, ‘If we go down, we want you shooting the ball. If you shoot 20 shots, shoot 20 shots, but stay aggressive,’” said point guard Ramon Sessions, who scored 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting in his playoff debut.
“If Kobe says it, hey, I’m good to go.”
Jordan Hill, another Laker making his playoff debut, got an earful, too.
Hill added to the Lakers’ newfound balance by scoring 10 points and taking 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, 17 seconds in a reserve role. He and Sessions were acquired in separate trades March 15, no longer newcomers but important contributors.
“Just got to go out and do it,” Hill said. “It’s got to be a team effort. Kobe is relying on everybody on the floor. Everybody is relying on each other. Everybody can do everything. It’s a team thing. Everybody knows Kobe’s the greatest. He can do it.
“But Kobe’s trying to put the team first.”