Kobe Bryant: The LA Lakers Will Still Live and Die by Kobe
Bryant correctly noted that the Lakers played superb defense, and they will only improve on that end of the court. Los Angeles also managed to out-rebound the Bulls minus suspended center Andrew Bynum and departed forward Lamar Odom.
The Lakers shot a higher percentage from the field than the Bulls, finished with more assists and got key production from first-time starters Devin Ebanks and Josh McRoberts.
But in the end the Lakers' Christmas holiday and season began and ended in familiar fashion, and while I agree with Bryant that there are reasons to be optimistic about the short 2011-12 regular season, there are also several reasons for concern.
For one, even though Derrick Rose didn't expose the Lakers point guards as much as expected he was still a highly efficient 9-of-13 shooting from the field with 21 points, and it was evident that neither Derek Fisher or Steve Blake could prevent Rose's penetration.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, but he only shot 2-of-6 from the free-throw line, and Gasol's timid nature once again resurfaced when the Lakers needed him to be aggressive in the fourth quarter.
Those things considered, the Lakers still had every opportunity to win while leading 87-81 with 54 seconds left, but some questionable decisions from Bryant in the game's clutch seconds effectively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
First, Bryant seemed to panic when double-teamed on the sideline in the game's closing seconds, and his ensuing pass to Gasol was intercepted by Bulls forward Luol Deng. Rose converted the turnover into points on the other end.
Rose's basket would prove to be the final margin of victory for the Bulls, but maybe the game could have ended on a different note if Bryant would not have been so intent on atoning for his earlier mistake.
The Lakers did receive one final possession with about four seconds left on the clock, and everyone in the Staples Center knew exactly where the ball would go, including every player on the court for Chicago.
So when Bryant received the out of bounds pass, several Bulls immediately converged on him and the game ended with Deng rejecting Bryant's final shot attempt.
With at least three defenders swarming Bryant, there had to be another Laker with a better look at the basket on the floor, but anyone watching the sequence of events play out knew that the game would ultimately be decided at Bryant's fingertips.
I am one of Bryant's biggest fans and supporters, but this is a script that has become tiring and old.
The Lakers played above most people's expectations on Christmas, and while Bryant's 28 points definitely put the Lakers in a position to win, his eight turnovers could arguably be the main reason for their loss.
Especially the last one.
I'm not sure if new head coach Mike Brown has the guts to publicly question Bryant's decision-making at the end of the Bulls game, but he should because if it doesn't improve Lakers fans should be prepared for a lot more games like the one on Christmas.
The Lakers have a very small margin of error if they hope to reach the 2012 NBA Finals, and Bryant may be the only player on the team who can narrow that window even further through his poor decision-making.
Sure Gasol should have come to meet Bryant's final ill-fated pass but in reality the ball never should have been thrown in Gaasol's direction in the first place.
On the other hand, the pass Bryant didn't make turned out to be the final nail in the Lakers' coffin.
Bryant may still have the ability to win close games for the Lakers, but until he learns to trust his teammates just a little he might end up costing them more games than he wins.
It's a frightening realization for the Lakers and their fans, especially since Bryant has had 15 years to learn that basic lesson.
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