With 5:45 left in Sunday night’s game and the Lakers down 14 points, coach Mike Brown sat Kobe Bryant Sunday night. He sat for the next 3:53 of a game where the Lakers were within striking distance of the Grizzlies (but never closed the gap and lost 102-93.
This has caused consternation among Lakers fans — Kobe sat during crunch time. It isn’t a sight we are used to. At Staples Center some fans started a “Kobe, Kobe” chant and the broadcast kept showing him on the bench. Mike Brown took heat for it after the game from fans.
I say “so what?” I don’t think he was wrong nor was this a big deal. Here are some quick thoughts.
• In the fourth quarter, the Lakers were -13 when Kobe Bryant was on the floor and +7 when he sat.
• The Lakers didn’t lose that game because Kobe sat they lost it because their defense wasn’t good — Memphis had an offensive efficiency of 113.3 (points per 100 possessions) for the game. To give that some context, the best offense in the NBA this season is the Thunder at 107.5 and on the season the Lakers allow 98.9. Come on, the Lakers let Hamed Haddadi score 10 points. If you don’t defend, you lose. (Numbers via Hoopdata.com.)
• After the game Kobe said he was frustrated but refused to make a big deal out of it, saying basically he was not going to throw Mike Brown under the bus. Or under the Buss. It was the right thing to say in public, but you know there will be a less polite private conversations about this between the two.
• Mike Brown is still experimenting with what works with Ramon Sessions in the game. When Kobe had been in before that quarter almost all the offense went through him, while he was hounded by one of the better wing defenders in the league in Tony Allen and drawing a lot of doubles. When he sat Sessions got Andrew Bynum some look (four quick points and it would have been more if a bucket had not been waived off by a Bynum travel call). Basically, the plan kind of worked, except where the Lakers defense didn’t get enough stops (see bullet point number two).
• One win or loss does not change the Lakers in the playoffs. They are pretty locked in at the three seed and barring an amazing winning streak or a big losing streak of their own, that is where they finish. What matters for them is figuring out a comfort level and what works before the playoffs start. This was a step — maybe a misstep but a step — down that road.
Of course, what they really should learn is that if they don’t defend come the playoffs they will be done early.