Kobe Bryant went to work in the Lakers’ 100-75 dismantling of the Magic in Game One of the NBA Finals with a performance that displayed exactly why he’s the best player in the world.
After dueling with solid defenders such as Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Shane Battier, Ron Artest, Dahntay Jones, and J.R. Smith, squaring off against Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus was a piece of cake.
Kobe simply torched Lee by using his size and overwhelming Lee in the post. Pietrus offered slightly more resistance, but Bryant simply brushed him off of wing screens and dotted the net with pull-up jumpers.
The few times Pietrus did a respectable job challenging Kobe, Bryant would unleash:
- A dream shake, reverse pivot jumper over Pietrus’ contesting arm from 17 feet.
- A spin out of the post and banked jumper after getting hit on the arm.
- A pull up 18-foot jumper with Pietrus clipping his legs in mid-flight.
Unlike LeBron James, Kobe has countless more tricks besides bulling to the hoop going right, bulling to the hoop going left and spinning back right, or launching pull-up jumpers.
Kobe’s post arsenal and advanced mid-range game were on full display and Lee and Pietrus were powerless to stop it.
When the smoke cleared, Kobe had a stat line for the ages—16-34 field goals, 40 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and one turnover.
Even those numbers aren't indicative of Kobe’s brilliance; he missed five of his last six shots, scored only four points, and committed his only turnover during the final 13 minutes of extended garbage time.
While it will be difficult for Kobe to duplicate some of the shots he hit against Pietrus one-on-one, he had—and will continue to have—open jumpers to his heart’s content every time the Lakers ran a screen targeting Dwight Howard. And Lee simply doesn’t stand a chance.
Aside from Kobe’s heroics, the Lakers had a nearly flawless game plan.
To counter Orlando’s high screen-and-rolls, the Lakers would switch high screens that didn’t involve Dwight Howard. When Howard was involved in a screen, the Lakers would pinch the wings or pinch the corners to help on penetration.
Rarely did they leave Rashard Lewis, and if they had to, they’d close out on him hard and chase him off the line. Also, when the ball was funneled to the wing, the Lakers would cut off the passing angles to the corners if Pietrus, Lewis, or Hedo Turkoglu were there.
Instead, the Lakers dared Lee and Rafer Alston to win the game with their shooting, and the duo came up blank: 5-19 field goals, 1-8 three-pointers, combined.
The Lakers used their length to counter Dwight’s sweeping hooks, and they were prepared for Howard’s baseline spins. When Howard got an offensive rebound or established deep position, the Lakers simply hacked him and prevented him from establishing any kind of rhythm.
While Howard was reasonably effective from the line— making 10 of 16 attempts—Orlando’s offense stalled because of his inability to hit his field goals.
From there on, the game was all about the Lakers playing well and the Magic failing to respond.
If Pau Gasol had a very timid start, he adjusted by moving out to 14 feet and plugging his jumpers. He dominated Rashard Lewis’ inferior defense, and was all over the offensive glass.
Andrew Bynum was likewise active around the basket, converting cookies and grabbing offensive rebounds.
Lamar Odom reminded everyone of his stupendous talents, owning the defensive glass, playing exceptional defense on Lewis, and cutting his way into layup after layup.
Derek Fisher made no mistakes—zero turnovers—lived up to his reputation as a big-time NBA Finals shooter—4-6 field goals, 1-1 three-pointers—and badly outplayed Rafer Alston.
Luke Walton posted and toasted Lee and Pietrus—4-5 field goals, nine points.
Sasha Vujacic played horrendous defense, overpenetrated and was stripped in the paint by Marcin Gortat. For his efforts, Vujacic was justly benched after two minutes, never to return until the game was well-decided.
The Lakers also had the right idea with the ball. Walton and Bryant especially would attack Dwight Howard in the paint and then dish the ball off to Gasol or Bynum uncovered under the basket or 14 feet away for open looks.
Because Howard chases the ball, and because Lewis and Turkoglu aren’t shot blockers, the Lakers had a field day when they attacked the paint.
Marcin Gortat was more disciplined in staying in his defensive position, so he was able to wait for the Lakers to come to him and alter their shots at the rim. That's why Gortat had four blocks to Howard’s two.
And as for the rest of the Magic, Turkoglu got off to a hot start with nine points in the initial quarter, but with the Lakers cutting off his drives and with his teammates missing shots, Turkoglu lost confidence through the rest of the game.
Rashard Lewis didn’t show up to play—2-10 field goals, five rebounds, eight points.
Tony Battie missed a pair of wide-open jumpers.
Jameer Nelson made an unexpected return to the spotlight. While he lived in the paint in the second quarter and made an array of dazzling passes, the Lakers adjusted and forced Nelson to be a scorer as the game evolved. His release was very slow and tentative, and he was short on nearly all of his jumpers.
J.J. Redick worked harder than Lee in his defense of Bryant and plugged a three-ball. While Redick certainly has no chance of containing Bryant when a game is up for grabs, if Redick is going to plug his threes, he’s worth inserting into the rotation in place of Lee.
Mickael Pietrus also hit his threes—3-5 from downtown—but they came as a result of his one-on-one efforts, rather than Orlando’s orchestrated offense.
Aside from Gortat, who controlled the boards, was a defensive presence, and hit a jumper, the Magic played with no energy, spirit, or confidence.
When a team predicated on defense and jump shooting stops shooting and defending with confidence, that’s when the magic runs out.