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NBA Playoffs: Bryant takes over with passing down the stretch

May 28, 2010, 1:26 AM EDT

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We all know who Kobe Bryant is — one of the most successful, dynamic, creative, and audacious scorers to have ever played in the NBA. Kobe’s passing has always been very good, but he’s generally preferred to take over games with his scoring throughout his career. 
Yet in crunch-time on Thursday night, while passing virtuoso Steve Nash kept the Suns in the game by making tough shot after tough shot, Kobe was the one making pinpoint passes and trusting his teammates to make big finishes. 
Kobe wasn’t as red-hot from the field in game five as he was in game four, but he made enough tough shots in the first 7/8ths of the game to give the Lakers a 88-83 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game. From that point on, Kobe did most of his damage by picking apart the Phoenix zone with passes that led to layups and wide-open jumpers rather than trying to win the game by himself with contested jumper after contested jumper.
Kobe’s playmaking takeover stared when Bryant found Pau Gasol for a layup with 6:16 left to play. After that, Kobe drew the defense and found Derek Fisher, his longtime backcourt partner and big-shot specialist, in the corner for an open three that put the Lakers up eight. After answering a Steve Nash mid-range jumper with one of his own, Kobe flared up on the weak side to draw the defense away from the corner, where Fisher went to make another catch-and-shoot jumper. 
As Nash kept dribbling around the perimeter and making shot after shot, Kobe remained content to set up his teammates with beautiful passes, finding Pau with a pass in the lane that led to two free throws and Lamar Odom in the “blind spot” of the zone for a layup. With 20 seconds left, Bryant made a beautiful pass to set Gasol up with a dunk opportunity that should have put the game away, but Gasol’s dunk bounced off the rim, allowing the Suns to tie the game with a third-chance three. 
With three seconds left, Kobe forced a game-winner attempt and missed badly, but Ron Artest was there to clean it up and give the Lakers the win, making up for Gasol’s gaffe less than a minute earlier. Just goes to show that trusting your teammates can pay off in all sorts of ways that you can’t expect. 
Kobe couldn’t miss from the field for much of game four, but the Suns were able to take him out of the game late by aggressively doubling Bryant in the fourth. Since the Lakers’ offense had been four guys standing around and watching Kobe up to that point, they had no idea how to attack the zone when the Suns took the ball out of Kobe’s hands. 
In game five, Kobe and Co. made the necessary adjustment. When the Suns forced the ball out of Kobe’s hands, his teammates knew where the weak spots in the zone would be, and Kobe knew where and when to find them when they flashed open. With the Staples crowd and their years of playoff experience giving the Laker role players confidence, they were able to step up and put the game away when the Suns tried to throw double and triple teams at Kobe on the perimeter. 
I could talk about how Kobe willing to set up his teammates in such a big game is an example of how he’s matured over the years, but I’ve never quite believed in the new/old Kobe thing. The defense was giving Kobe passing lanes rather than easy shots, and Kobe has players around him who he can trust to make big plays late in the game rather than the terrible supporting cast he had in his early post-Shaq years. If the Suns go man-to-man late in game six and his teammates are struggling to make shots, I would wager that Kobe would take that game over with his scoring. 
Forget the new Kobe. Forget the old Kobe. Forget looking at each of Kobe’s big playoff performances like a window into his psyche. If you get caught up in all that stuff, you might miss the player who’s been doing the same, mostly amazing thing for a number of years now: the most complete player in basketball, and maybe the most complete player ever, doing whatever he can to try and get his team as many wins as possible, especially when it matters most. 
  1. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 28, 2010 at 2:17 AM

    And to think that haters out there still continue to think that Kobe is a ball-hog… Unfortunately, his ability and skill to make great passes is very much overshadowed by his stupendous ability in putting the ball in the bucket.

  2. KWC - May 28, 2010 at 3:55 AM

    Complete player – that’s it exactly. So many supposed stars can only go with their primary strength, despite what the defense may be giving. Shut down that strength and they become only average or ineffective. The mark of a smart player is a “contrary” ability – run the team like a point guard when the defense is focused on denying good shots and rack up assists. Btw, wonder why LA doesn’t have someone at the point who can rack up a lot of assists?

  3. luffy - May 28, 2010 at 4:55 AM

    He is the real MVP…
    To all the haters out there, please spare us the nonsense posts…

  4. Josh - May 28, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    What he’s doing in this series stats-wise is incredible.
    53.5% from the field. 33 points per game. 7.4 rebounds per game. 9.6 assists per game. This is probably the best individual playoff series he’s ever had.

  5. Omnius - May 28, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    Kobe Bryant is the true MVP of the NBA and that’s why he’ll win yet another championship this year. Kobe will not be denied by some wimpy team that plays a girlie zone. No team that plays a girlie zone deserves to be in the NBA Finals, where only real men belong. Want to play girlie zone move to the WNBA Lost Suns! Kobe will close out the Setting Suns in game 6 on the road.

  6. guy - May 28, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    I really really hate the dispicable Lakers and Kobe Bryant the rapist. But he is like a basketball magician. It’s ridiculous.

  7. Peezie - May 28, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    You are an idiot. The mere fact that you call Kobe a rapist shows how stupid you are. Yes, he cheated on his wife (as do a great number of professional athletes), but what does that have to do with this discussion regarding the playoffs. Please keep you idiotic comments to yourself and spare us the display of ignorance.

  8. Sports Fan With Attitude - May 28, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    Kobe is as close to MJ as we’ll see. Both gifted athletes, but most importantly, both super-clutch under pressure. The old cliche that “they not only want the ball with the game on the line…they demand it” is so true for those 2 guys. LeBron is a great athlete also, but I just don’t see the “refuse to lose” mentality in him like I do in players like Kobe, D-Wade, and Nash.

  9. davis love - May 28, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    KOBE is the man!Suns are finished, I’m callin it right now. Lakers destroy the Suns on their home turf, make ‘em look like smurfs, while shakin up the earth. BOOM!

  10. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 28, 2010 at 7:39 PM

    Go look for another sandlot to play. I heard there is this asylum. Works well with you, I suppose. With matching straight jacket and purple pills. You’re just a hater who is envious that Kobe gets stuff you can’t even have in 10 lifetimes. Loser.

  11. Jeff - May 31, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    lol u called it, single coverage (single coverage that is, until kobe starts to make his move) and teammates struggling on the road? sounds like a laker trend on the road but Kobe closes the game with his scoring (what was it, 9 points in the last 2 minutes?). This was one of those games where you felt he wz looking for his quick one-two dribble pullup fadeaway, but yes you are on point, he is simply a complete player, his game is like water: he can go around, over, under, or through the smallest of cracks in an opponents defense.

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