This is not to say, however, that Bryant was the lone reason for the Lakers loss. In truth, the lock down defense, inside presence, and dominance on the glass that has keyed this post All-Star resurrection was nowhere to be found. Against the Heat, the Lakers gave up 46 points in the paint, 21 second chance points and in the final two minutes could not make the necessary defensive rotations to keep Dwayne Wade out of the lane.
Combine those numbers with the fact that the Lakers shot a miserable 29% (12-for-41) in the second half and it’s easy to see the true reason for the Lakers only loss in the past twelve games.
Thanks to the Heat’s recent struggles, though, the idea of what it is to be a “closer,” has been a trending topic in the NBA. Fortunately for the Lakers there’s no question that their closer is and should be Bryant.
What should be questioned, however, is how he goes about closing.
What the Lakers need from Bryant in the closing minutes is precision and timing, not hero shots.
Those last second heaves from downtown should be saved for when the team has no other option. In fact, I’m proposing the Lakers take those shots and place them inside a glass box near the bench with a sign that reads “In Case of Emergency Only, Break Glass.”
This is not the Bryant of 2006-07 who could put up 81 points in a single game, or outscore an entire team by himself through three quarters of play as he once did against the Dallas Mavericks (Kobe 62, Dallas 61).
This Kobe is older. This Kobe has lost a step. More importantly, this Kobe has options.
These Lakers can win without needing big scoring outbursts from Bryant as they did recently in OKC and Dallas, with Bryant going 8-for-22 and 6-for-20, respectively.
Incessant reliance on Bryant’s scoring is not the secret to this team’s success. In fact, you could even argue that the more Bryant shoots, the worse off the Lakers are. The simple reason being, that the more attempts Bryant takes, the less the ball goes inside and takes advantage of the Lakers greatest strength: its size.
When commenting on the prospect of not having Bryant following his ankle injury against Dallas and on what the team does better without Bryant in the lineup, Phil Jackson revealingly said, “Run our offense, simple as that.”
Kobe can still go for big games, as he did scoring 37 in Portland. A few nights later he scored 42 against the Phoenix Suns.
And, he can still carry this team for short stretches, as he did at home against Portland, making five of his last eight attempts and carrying the Bynum-less Lakers through to a tough fourth quarter win.
But having a balanced attack and taking advantage of the Lakers size inside is the formula this team needs to follow if it’s serious about a three-peat. And, if they would just run their offense for the first 47 minutes of the game, they would be less reliant on Bryant in the 48th.
In other words, with over two minutes remaining in multiple games this season Bryant has broken the glass and unnecessarily brought out the hero shots and it has cost his team games.
This is the Bryant we love to hate.