By J.A. Adande
For Kobe Bryant, nothing expresses love like making the ultimate sacrifice: passing up shots.
It’s a commitment he seems most willing to make for Pau Gasol. I have a theory that Bryant feels a special attachment to Gasol because he sees him as the ticket to the championships he needs to surpass the five Larry O’Brien trophies Magic Johnson won with the Lakers or the six Michael Jordan won with the Bulls.
So you don’t hear Kobe make any snide remarks that question Gasol’s toughness, as Phil Jackson has during the hamstring injuries that have sidelined the Laker big man twice this season. And you’re far less likely to see Bryant jacking up shots at a high rate when Gasol is on the court.
Bryant averaged more than 21 shots per game in the two months before Gasol arrived from Memphis in a February 2008 trade. In the first month with Gasol aboard that number dropped to 18 shots per game. He would wave teammates out of the way to allow Gasol to operate alone in the post.
Gasol missed all but three minutes of 10 games in March that season, and Bryant’s shots per game ballooned to 24 in that month.
This year, in the four full games since Gasol tweaked his hamstring on Jan. 3, Bryant has taken 111 shots – almost 28 per game.
Bryant said there’s a void without Gasol.
“Pau’s biggest trait is his consistency, consistently having solid games, 20 and 10 games,” Bryant said. “That’s something that we need to find on a night-in, night-out basis…We’re searching a little bit.”
Bryant thinks it can be found in his right hand, damaged index finger and all. (Against Milwaukee Sunday night Bryant even launched an 18-foot jumper with his left hand to beat the shot clock.) Opponents have found that Bryant will try shooting even against a double-team lately, so they’re sending second defenders at him. Watch all of that change when Gasol gets back, which probably won’t happen until the weekend at the earliest.