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Tonight, he added the Memphi Grizzlies to his list of victims with his sixth game-winner of the season. In his first game back from an ankle injury, missing five Laker games and the All-Star festivities, Bryant looked particularly great. It was the best he has looked since he hurt his finger. He was very active with the ankle, making cuts to the rim and elevating at the cup, dunking it three times and finishing strong a couple of other times.
Bryant was crisp on his turnaround jumper, a site that hasn’t been seen in awhile, his pull-up was on and he played his best defense of the entire season.
For a moment, I’ll address his defensive effort. Bryant was all over O.J. Mayo during this game. He didn’t give him any space when he tried to create a shot and Mayo’s only points came on screens that freed him up. Two plays stand out from the effort. After starting off the possession off on Mayo, he switched off a screen. While manning the middle, Bryant went to close out on Zach Randolph, forcing him to give the ball up. Then, Kobe went back to Mayo, poked the ball away and trotted up the court toying with Rudy Gay by holding back just enough to where he could dish it back to Pau Gasol, before finally throwing it down. On another occasion, Bryant allowed Mayo to get by him, and, just as Mayo appeared to have any easy lay-up, Bryant came around him back and rejected it back.
That wasn’t all for Bryant, though. As the Grizzlies lead ballooned to eight in the third quarter. Bryant was getting few touches in the offense. Ron Artest was taking some poor shots and Jordan Farmar wasn’t making good basketball decisions. Kobe started the fourth on the bench, as he normally does. He entered the game down five with about eight minutes left. Check that, the Black Mamba checked into the game with eight minutes left.
Bryant was brilliant down the stretch. A 16-foot turnaround jumper over Mayo to cut it to two. A two point shot that came with just a toe on the line with 2:21 left to cut it to three after a Memphis basket and free throws. A technical foul free throw. A 25-foot three with 54 seconds left to tie it at 96.
It was just about then when everyone in Memphis knew that it was over. Their team has loads of young talent, but nobody is capable of handling Kobe down the stretch.
At the 37 second mark, Rudy Gay got a five foot jumper to go, putting Memphis back up by two. Kobe tried to respond to that by driving into the lane and creating an easy shot for Pau Gasol. He did, but Gasol missed the five footer and couldn’t get the rebound or tip to go. The Lakers fouled on the rebound and fouled Mayo on the inbounds to put Memphis on the line.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Mayo missed both of his free throws and Ron Artest pulled down the board with 18.4 seconds left in the game. Down two, my thoughts ran to a pick and roll play with Gasol with Kobe diving to the basket and trying to draw a foul. Well, that’s exactly what happened, but Marc Gasol rode Kobe’s hip all the way to the basket (which I think was a foul), allowing Rudy Gay to come from behind and spike the ball down. The problem with that is that Gay hit it so hard that it bounced off the back of the backboard, giving the Lakers the ball back.
Now inbounding the ball at mid-court, Phil Jackson drew up a masterful play.
Ron Artest threw the ball in to Pau Gasol at the top of the right wing, Artest then went down to the right box and screened Kobe’s man (Gay) with his man (Mayo), causing a second of delay. Kobe came up as Gasol handed it off to Lamar Odom at the top of the three-point line. Gasol then set a screen on Rudy Gay as Kobe popped to the left wing, caught the ball from Odom and nailed a dagger three with 4.3 seconds to go in the contest.
Mayo would get a chance to win the game on the next possession, but, after a pick was set for him, Gasol switched out on Mayo and forced a bad shot with his length, a fade away jumper from the right side of the free throw line.
Some more notes on this game:
-Bryant finished with one his best lines of the season. 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 shooting from three, and 3-of-3 shooting from the line (an oddly low number considering Kobe did attack a few times and had Mayo up on him several times). Along with seven rebounds, six assists (I counted six others that were “should have been” assists), three steals and two blocks. Like I said, it was the best he has looked since he hurt the finger and, if this is a sign of things to come, it looks like the time off not only healed his ankle, but also his broken finger.
-Pau Gasol didn’t have a great game. The numbers are there: 22 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, but I think he got outplayed by his brother the whole game. Plus, he struggled in crunch time again by missing two free throws in the closing minute and a half and missing a five footer in the closing 30 seconds. At least he made up for a bit with his good screen on the offensive play for LA and his closeout on Mayo on the final possession of the entire game. I’ll take that.
-Speaking of his brother, how good is Marc Gasol? I mean, seriously. He may not have the range or tools that his big brother have but he gives 110% at all times to make up for that. Eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. The numbers aren’t as impressive as Pau’s but he got less touches and, when he did get the ball, it was usually against Pau and he beat him straight up more than a couple of times.
-While both Gasol brothers were great, let’s not forget the best post player in this contest, Zach Randolph. How does 20 points on eight-of-12 shooting, 14 rebounds (four offensive), four steals, three assists and three blocks sound for a guy that was making little to no positive contributions to his team last season? He is such a skilled offensive player that you don’t really get a feel for his overall game until you watch him for 48 minutes. His work on the glass, ability to bail out his team with shots that big men aren’t suppose to hit, and his toughness when defending the rim. Really good player. A BTGIO All-Star, in fact.This was a very good contest.
Props go out to rookie shooting guard Marcus Thorton, who scored 23 points in the second quarter alone (a franchise record), and finished with a career high 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting. Fellow rook Darren Collison continued his hot play by adding 22 points and 10 dimes, but again struggled with turnovers (six).
LeBron James had a pretty average game. He had just five points in the first half and finished with only 20. His 13 assists to no turnovers were pretty darn good, especially since he was able to get Antawn Jamison (18 points, 6 boards) involved, but again he struggled with his ego. He hit a big three with 59 seconds left in the game but felt for some reason that the best idea on the next possession was to stand still for a few seconds and put up a terrible shot from 27-feet. Heat checks are not good, LeBron. Please figure this out. Eddie House vs Nate Robinson wasn’t great. Robinson missed five of his shots and House clanged a three late that would have tied the game.
Rajon Rondo had 15 points and 16 dishes for the Celtics. David Lee led things for the Knicks, with 28 points and 15 boards.
A player to watch for the next month: Sergio Rodriguez. No longer in a battle for minutes in Sac-Town, Rodriguez got the start for the Knicks tonight and was great. 18 points on seven-of-10 shooting, six assists, five rebounds and a couple of steals. A solid player that looks very good in this offense. Though Miami did lose without Dwyane Wade, they may have found a motivated player in Dorell Wright. Wright had 26 points on nine-of-11 shooting, including six three’s. He also added seven rebounds, three blocks, two steals, an assist and a nasty putback slam on a missed jumper. I am sure he and Michael Beasley lead the league in that stat.
Carrying the load for Minnesota was Kevin Love, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, though he couldn’t stop Wright for soaring in for that slam. Al Jefferson also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.Brandon Roy looked good. Sure, it was against the Nets, but he looked very good. 28 points on just 14 shots thanks to 13 free throw attempts. LaMarcus Aldridge added 27 points and seven boards.
The Nets had a trio of individual stars, but fell short of a comeback victory. Courtney Lee and Devin Harris both had 28 points apiece while Brook Lopez had 17 points and 10 rebounds. I’d rather not talk about this one. It was not well officiated, I’ll leave it at that.
Kevin Durant continued his streak by scoring 36 points on 13-of-24 shooting with eight rebounds. Russell Westbrook added 21 points, 10 assists and three steals.
Like I said in my last AtB, when Jason Richardson plays well, the Suns win. Tonight, without Steve Nash, Richardson had 20 points, including the game-winner after crossing over Thabo Sefolosha, and 13 rebounds. Amare Stoudemire added 30 points and nine rebounds.Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince had 30 and 22 respectively for the Pistons. They both look good. I would like to see them both on contenders next season. Please and thank you.
Tyreke Evans had a great night, carrying the team all by himself. 11-of-19 from the floor, 28 points, 13 dimes, three rebounds and a pair of steals. And, once you see Curry’s line, you’ll see why he has regained the RoY card. For now. Unless Darren Collison has one more good game, then he gets it.Quite a line from Lou Williams: 26 points on 14 shots, 10 rebounds and seven assists. He’s a good point guard. Andre Iguodala had 22 points on 14 shots, with seven assists, four rebounds and four steals.
Stephen Curry struggled, scoring just 17 points on 22 shots.