4 points – that’s all Kobe Bryant needed to reach his 28,000th point milestone. Two baskets, four free throws, one basket and two free throws – the permutations to get those four points are quick and finite, yet it took two quarters and two minutes of the third for Bryant to get there. It’s true – the 15-year veteran has never put a great amount of emphasis on attaining such goals, but the context in which he failed to score said points was the big issue in tonight’s loss.
In a game where two of the Lakers’ big three combined for 38 points, Kobe Bryant continued to ignore the success of his other teammates in his attempt to shoot his way out of a bad game. Is this new? No, for Bryant has had bad shooting nights before, but in the end usually wised up to the defense to either improve his shot selection or facilitate the offense. Tonight he did neither and the Lakers lost a game they could have easily won.
Kobe Bryant – 16 points on 6-28 shooting, two rebounds, four assists and six turnovers. He made just 1-8 from behind the arc and attempted just four free throws in which he converted three. In the grand scheme of things, the 21% field goal percentage wasn’t even the worst part of Bryant’s game. It’s that he did so little in other areas to put the game in the Lakers’ favor. Last night, Denver’s defense collapsed each time Bryant had the ball in his hands, and though he shot 6-18, he also had 10 rebounds and nine assists. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum attempted 27 shots combined and managed to score on 15 of them – all high percentage shots, and most accomplished through proper ball movement. After a 35 point third quarter in which the Lakers managed to climb out of an 11-point deficit at the half, Bryant shot 3-10 from the field, grabbed zero rebounds, handed out one assist and committed another turnover in the final quarter. In a game that seesawed for a greater part of the second half, the Lakers had more than a few chances to win but didn’t capitalize on the factors that could have gotten the victory.
Turnovers and free throws – Since this seems to be a recurring low-point for the team, it just makes sense to put them on the same line because they accomplish the same thing – preventing efficiently played games. 15 turnovers and just 16-24 from the charity stripe tonight. For a team like the Nuggets who lead the league in fast break points, opposing team’s turnovers are their bread and butter. Denver will run the whole game if you give them the opportunity and the Lakers allowed them that great favor tonight.
Three-Point Shooting – 4-24? After last night’s 2-24, the Lakers could do with some three ball attempts in rhythm, or maybe some extra shooting on the side.
Third Quarter – After finishing the first half shooting a paltry 32% for just 36 points, the Lakers came into the third prepared to turn things around and they did, shooting 54% from the field and committing just one turnover. That 11- point deficit turned into a single point before the fourth after the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 35-25 in the third. A Gasol putback here, a Bynum layup there, a three-pointer from Metta World Peace, and another from downtown from Steve Blake and the Lakers appeared to have finally found their stride…until the fourth quarter anyway.
Steve Blake – For whatever shortcomings Blake had last season, he is certainly making up for it now, scoring 14 points on 6-9. In the final minutes of the game when Fisher is usually at the helm on the floor, Coach Mike Brown chose to remain with Blake instead. He had certainly earned to be in that position tonight.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – Individually, the Laker big men had great games. Andrew Bynum had 18 points on 7-12, 16 rebounds, a steal and a block (just 4-10 from the free throw line but at least he got there 10 times). Pau Gasol finished with 20 points on 8-15, 11 rebounds, two assists and a block. Why the Lakers chose to attempt 23 three-pointers (in which they only converted four) instead of exploiting their dominance inside is baffling at best. Mozgov was playing with five personal fouls in the fourth and Nene was right behind him with four fouls himself. Yet Kobe Bryant continued to shoot his way out of an abysmal offensive game instead of running the offense and setting up the two big guys who no one in a Denver Nugget uniform could cover. The ease with which the Lakers could have taken over this game if they had just put their stock in, simply, what was actually working, is off the charts.
Hopefully, tonight’s game was just a momentary lapse in judgment for the Lakers, or Kobe Bryant in particular. A 3-3 record isn’t the end of the world, but losses that could have and should have been wins are sometimes hard to overlook.