Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant kept NBA fans entertained in the first half of the Los Angeles Lakers 35-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. Bryant smiled when Durant’s length got the best of him, blocking a three-point attempt followed by stripping him in the paint, all in one possession. And, Durant smiled too, shaking his head, after he bit on one of Bryant’s many pump fakes, something Bryant got a kick out of after the game.
“I spent literally the entire summer, showing him my pump fake and how to draw fouls and then they both (Durant and Russell Westbrook) fell for it,” Bryant laughed, referring to the summer of 2012 when all three were members of Team USA.
But, the entertainment stopped after the first half, when the Thunder held the Lakers scoreless for nearly six minutes of action, encapsulating a 22-0 Oklahoma City run.
With this being Bryant’s final season, his last time going head to head with the biggest names in the NBA, of course the matchups become the center of attention. The story centers around appreciating his greatness, respecting one of the best to ever play the game, which also means as teammates, stepping back and allowing Bryant to do his thing one final time.
But, the Lakers also have a young core to bring along, develop, show them how to play the game the right way. So what’s the balance then of ball movement, and the ‘Kobe Show,’ so to speak?
Head coach Byron Scott is still trying to find it.
“Trying to find that balance,” Scott responded when asked about how best to incorporate that ball movement amidst Kobe isolation plays. “Trying to get it to move and trying to get him in spots where I know he can be effective.”
Scott also admitted to the dangers of these types of lop-sided games starting to have the look and feel of an exhibition game, or even an All-Star game when players like Bryant, Durant and Westbrook are all out on the floor together. The only way to stop that, Scott said, is to “start calling plays.”
“Sometimes it does,” Scott conceded when asked about the lop-sided All-Star game type feel. “A couple of trips up and down the floor, and you kind of see them going at each other, then you kind of want to stop him (Bryant) to get in more of a flow, so you just start calling plays.”
Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell, who led the bench with 18 points and four three-pointers against the Thunder last night, offered his perspective on how to create a better balance, even when Bryant’s hot.
“I feel like if Kobe’s hot like that, you’ve got to go away from him for a little bit and then come back, cause at that point he’s going to keep going until he misses a shot or feels like he’s not hot anymore,” Russell said at Thursday’s practice. “He has the ability to take over a game and bring his teammates with him, so when he does his thing, you’ve got to match it.”
From Scott’s perspective, Bryant’s teammates feed off his energy. The team is more confident when Kobe’s in a rhythm. The problem is, when he’s not in a rhythm, the players feed off that, too.
“It’s the same when he’s not in that rhythm. I don’t think they’ve gotten to that point yet, as a young group of guys, when Kobe’s not going (in a rhythm), where somebody else can really pick up the slack.”
Over his last eight games, Bryant is averaging a team-leading 20.4 points to go with 4.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.0 steals on 45.5 percent shooting in just 29 minutes per game. Against Oklahoma City, Bryant started off 1-of-6, before finding a rhythm in the second quarter, hitting five of his next eight shots to put the Lakers ahead by a triple midway through the second. But, once a quick end of the second quarter run, turned into a colossal 22-0 run in the third quarter, there was no rhythm that could put the Lakers back in that one.
“I feel like we’ve got guys capable of doing the same, it’s just about earning your respect,” Russell said about what the rest of the team can do when Bryant’s having an off-night. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are capable of leading the team and running the show, so guys can’t be surprised when it happens.”
The Los Angeles Lakers will have another tough matchup on Christmas Day, taking on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers at Staples Center, 7:30 PM PST.