Did Chris Paul's Play Force Kobe Bryant to Force Shots?

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IApril 20, 2008

He says he was just making himself a decoy.  But since when is taking 26 shots making yourself a decoy?

With 6'9" Kenyon Martin draped all over him, Kobe Bryant made only nine of those 26, and most of them didn't come until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.

Although the Lakers won handily, 128-114, could they have doubled their winning margin if Bryant had passed up some of the shots he obviously forced?

Just past the half-way mark of the first quarter, the Lakers opened up a 10-point lead in what amounted to a layup drill that the Nuggets were helpless to stop. 

Then Bryant started taking unnecessary perimeter shots. Some were open and some were contested.  Only two found their mark. 

Instead of increasing their 10-point lead, the Lakers found themselves on the short end of a 47-40 score.

It wasn't until Gasol, Odom, and Walton started feeding each other in the paint that the Lakers made up ground and forged ahead 58-56 at halftime.  Bryant was only 2-10 at the intermission.

Continuing to pound the ball in the paint, the Lakers, led by Pau Gasol, opened the second half with a 15-2 run.  They closed the third quarter way out in front, 97-78.

But at the start of the fourth quarter, Bryant went back to hoisting up contested shots, and the Nuggets promptly cut the Laker lead down to 10.

They would close to within nine points twice in the period before Bryant finally found the mark and wound up with 18 points in the quarter.  He had 32 points overall.  Thirteen came on free throws.

I had to ask myself if Bryant's erratic performance through three-and-a-half quarters had anything to do with Chris Paul's performance Saturday.

In the New Orleans Hornets' opener against the Dallas Mavericks, Paul had a lackluster first half just like Bryant did on Sunday.  The Hornets went into their locker room at the half trailing Dallas, 52-40.

But in the second half, Paul was nothing less than sensational.  To chants of "M-V-P," he put the Hornets on his back and drove them to a 104-92 victory. 

Paul left no doubt as to his MVP caliber, fueling the Hornets' 24-point turnaround with a 35-point, 10-assist performance.  His energy and determination are what single-handedly lifted New Orleans past Dallas.

Could Chris Paul's performance actually have gotten Kobe Bryant to throw up shot after shot in Sunday's game against the Nuggets?  With his front court playing so well together, there was no need to take more than half that number of shots.

"I just made myself more of a decoy and then allow my teammates to open up the game for me," Bryant said.

Was he telling the truth or simply trying to cover his real motivation?  Being the competitor that he is, did Bryant feel the need to surpass Chris Paul's performance with an unequaled one of his own?

One thing is certain.  It was quite obvious who turned out to be the Most Valuable Player this weekend.

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