The 37-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star passionately lectured his young teammates about the continuous string of defensive miscues as Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard (36 points) and C.J. McCollum (28) kept scoring while facing little to no resistance.
Specifically, Bryant told his teammates to pressure those guards and help keep the ball out of their hands, a key element of the Lakers’ game plan that hadn’t been followed. As Bryant spoke, Lakers coach Byron Scott stood nearby and remained silent, ceding the floor to Bryant.
“I think it helps because of the fact that he is who he is,” Scott said of Bryant’s speech.
But regardless of who is delivering the message, Scott believes the Lakers’ young players are still far behind when it comes to defense.
“We can’t move on until they learn,” Scott said. “We’ve had to go backwards a little bit and go back to some of the things that we talked about in training camp and start going over that again because we’ve gotten away from it. Again, it’s not punishment, but until you can prove to me that we’re ready to move on and do those things on a consistent basis, I’ve got to go back to the basics.”
Scott referenced the Trail Blazers game and how his players didn’t follow orders, leading to a another double-digit loss as the Lakers fell to 9-37.
“We didn’t do what we talked about doing,” Scott said. “We didn’t do it in the first half. We talked about it again the second half, or at halftime. We talked about, let’s try to at least do the things that we talked about doing, and we still weren’t able to do it. When you’re not focused on the game plan and you don’t pay attention to details, this is what happens.”
Specifically, Scott talked about how the Lakers wanted to guard Lillard and McCollum, who, as ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton noted, scored a combined season-high of 64 points, topping their previous combined high of 62 on Nov. 4.
“We wanted to try and get the ball out of those two guys’ hands as much as possible,” Scott said. “Obviously, that means if they’re running pick-and-rolls, we want to try to double them and we didn’t do it. Simple as that. We talked about it before the game. We talked about it this morning -- this is what we wanted to do as far as being aggressive because those two guys are the head of the snake -- and our guys didn’t do it.”
Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, has had two strong performances lately, scoring 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting against San Antonio on Friday and then scoring 21 on 8-of-12 shooting against the Trail Blazers a day later.
“I thought he was OK,” Scott said “I’m not so much worried about [the offensive] end of the floor. It’s the other end. We’ve got to be able to stop somebody and guards are attacking our guards and our bigs have to do a better job of carrying out the game plan, which tonight was really get up and try to pressure those guys.”
Russell didn’t disagree with Scott’s assessment.
“We didn’t do a good job as far as guards and bigs of trapping that ball screen on the side,” Russell said. “And on the top, we didn’t do a good job playing individual defense until the ball screen came... They just came off clean [for wide-open shots] and knocked them down. I guess coach was right.”
Lillard made 14 of 19 shots and McCollum made 12 of 21 shots. Many of them were wide-open looks.
Russell acknowledged that defense is an area where he and the team’s other young players need to grow.
“You can say that, but we usually struggle on the defensive end,” he said. “Young guys come into the league, the hardest thing is to guard. You’ve got to know guys' personnel. I know I’m speaking for myself -- this is my first time going around and playing against these guys a few times. I feel like when I get a year or two or three under my belt, I’ll have a better feel for guys. It’s all experience.”
That said, the Western Conference is packed with All-Star guards, so it’s not possible to contain them all or even slow them all down, no matter how experienced you are.
“You can’t stop them,” Russell said. “You can try, but the whole team has to be on a string when it comes to stopping one of those All-Star guards. There’s a lot of All-Star guards in this conference. We can just compete and try to make it as tough as possible for them.”
As for his own offensive performance, Russell said he’s more patient and will “take what the game gives me the whole game, but by that time, the game is over. Just trying to stay within the game plan and the system on the offensive end and still be aggressive at the same time.”
He added, “I try to grow every game. I do stuff that I surprise myself with and tell myself before the game, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. Then when I get out there, it’s just all feel and, like I said, I just surprise myself. “