Kobe Bryant was worn down Thursday night.
On defense he spent much of the night chasing Dwyane Wade around picks and trying to shut down the league’s 10th leading scorer. On offense he faced constant aggressive ball pressure — Miami’s strategy was to take away the room and time for Kobe and Steve Nash to make good decision as the ball handlers. And it worked, the two combined for 10 of the Lakers 20 turnovers.
Still, Kobe had enough to have 13 fourth quarter points, including the three that tied the game 90-90. Then LeBron happened (five points and two assists to give Miami its final four) and the Heat closed the game on a 9-0 run to win.
After the game, Kobe vented that he couldn’t do it all himself, as reported by ESPNLA.com.
“I need some help offensively to save energy and not have to isolate and do things like that,” Bryant said. “I’m going to need some picks. I’m going to need to catch-and-shoot like I did in the fourth quarter a little bit to make my job a little easier. I think the first three quarters of me just standing around the perimeter, the defense is praying for that. We have to do some things to free me up and get me in open spaces, this way I can be more active on the defensive end of the floor.”
This isn’t just a simple “Kobe doesn’t get help because he doesn’t pass” meme some like to fall back on. It’s more complex than that.
Part of the problem Thursday was the Heat’s pressure defense — they took away passing lanes and good options. Mike D’Antoni had stressed to his team before the game to beat the Heat pressure with ball movement, but under a swarming Heat defense the result was hurried passes with Miami players jumping the passing lanes. That led to 16 first half turnovers and a lot of Lakers just standing around waiting for the guy with the ball to try and make a play.
All that led to Kobe shooting 3-of-16 through the first three quarters.
“We talked about it going into the fourth quarter. I said, ‘Coach D man, goddamn. Come on, man. Come on, man. I can’t be standing out here like this all night long now,'” Bryant said, recalling a conversation with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “We did a much better job of that. My teammates know. We got to pick each other up. I’m going to go out there and do what I got to do defensively, and then on the offensive end of the floor we’ll pick each other up.”
The problem is this shouldn’t be about Kobe’s shots — he had 25 of them to get his 22 points.
Dwight Howard had just 7 shots. Same with Pau Gasol off the bench. The Miami Heat want to play small but the Lakers could not make them pay by getting Howard good touches down low. (Then when they did Miami would foul — Howard had 13 free throw attempts and hit just 5.) The Lakers didn’t play to their advantage in this game and it cost them.
Kobe is clearly frustrated. The Lakers played better in this game than they did a couple weeks ago, they are improving step-by-step, the problem is they dug themselves such a hole they don’t have time for a gradual improvement.
They need to get better now — and do it with 10 of their next 13 games on the road.
It’s back to the old chicken-and-the-egg with Kobe — he needs more help from his teammates, but he has to make sure those teammates get quality chances, too. Find the mismatch and exploit it. If you play a small team, feed the post. Take advantage of what the defense gives you, don’t just try to impose your will on the other team.
We’ll see if the Lakers can really do all that in time to save their playoff hopes.