Even setting aside his heroics in the final seconds, Tuesday night's 109-107 win over Toronto was a strong game for Kobe Bryant. He finished 11-of-20 from the floor and attacked aggressively, earning 11 foul shots rounding out a 32-point effort. (Six assists and six rebounds amount to more than window dressing, as well.) As was his style earlier in the season, Bryant bypassed longer jumpers -- he only took one triple -- moving his offense toward the basket in one form or another, whether setting up in the post, driving to the rack, or using his patented pull up J.
From the first half to the second, though, the Lakers made an adjustment in how they deployed Kobe in the offense, one I was happy to see.
"I thought he did it a lot in the first half," Phil Jackson said of initiating the offense. "In the first quarter initially he got everybody shots. (Got Derek Fisher) a couple of shots, Ron (Artest) a shot, that kind of stuff. Later in the game, there was an effort to have him moving, not be the perpetrator all the time off the dribble. I thought it would be a little bit better because we'd stay inside of our offense and use the format that we have."
I've long been an advocate of balance in L.A.'s offense and tend to cast a critical eye when Kobe's shot totals are consistently in the high 20's or beyond. These are not state secrets. But rather than a specific number, I try to focus on the types of shots Kobe is taking, how they're set up, and where they come in the flow of the offense. With that in mind, I loved what the Lakers did over the final 24 minutes -- and occasionally in the first half as well. They were successful in rotating the ball to find him down low when post chances were there, and worked Kobe frequently off cuts and screens on the weak side.
Like the Sundance Kid, Kobe is better when he moves.
As a result, Kobe frequently caught the ball in attacking position inside Toronto's defense. More importantly, when Kobe runs off the ball, it keeps his teammates involved. They're touching the rock, passing it, finding open players. Yes, the destination is often still Bryant (it should be), but the process of letting Kobe do his thing is far more empowering. Moreover, placing Kobe off the ball, having him slice, move, and cut opens lanes for other players. Bryant must always be accounted for. He's the proverbial elephant on the floor, hard to ignore completely even when not the center of attention.
Moving the ball "inside" the offense, as PJ put it, created not only good looks for Bryant, but also Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum among others, and generated lanes for Bryant to attack the rack and get to the line.
Jackson also saw other benefits.
"Sometimes [with Kobe initiating the offense] we turn the ball over like we did in the first half, get run outs because poor shots and the sequence ends up without good court balance," he said. "That's what happened in those sequences [in the first half] sometimes."
Fewer turnovers and awkward shots mean fewer run outs stressing the team's transition D.
The Lakers were still very Kobe-centric in the fourth quarter Tuesday night. He took seven of the team's 18 shots and earned six free throws (two when Jarret Jack grabbed him coming off a weak side cut, sending him to the line without even touching the ball). It was in major contrast, though, to the Kobe-centric final period Sunday in Orlando where Kobe initiated virtually every possession and dominated the flow of the ball with a string of isos and high screen and rolls.
Granted, it was a road game against a much better defensive team, but it also made for much, much more difficult looks. To his credit, Kobe made a lot of them, including some huge jumpers down the stretch, but the margin for error was non-existent and the supporting cast made almost incidental. Tuesday, he was equally impactful but with less strain on the offense and more benefits for his teammates and margin for error.
There are times when Kobe initiating the offense can be incredibly effective. He obviously draws a ton of attention, forces the opposition to make decisions, and is adept at finding the open man. A Kobe Bryant high-screen can be beautiful to watch. He can also dominate when isolated in the post with cutters stationed on the other side of the floor, or with the off-ball movement we saw last night.
The key is variety, enough to keep his teammates empowered and defenses honest.