The hero of Game One of the NBA Finals nearly turned into the goat of Game Two.
I’m talking about Kobe Bryant, of course. Like Bryant said after the game, "I made some bad decisions."
I have to agree with him there and thank him for acknowledging his poor judgment. But that comes as an afterthought. When you are playing in the NBA Finals and you are considered the best closer in basketball, you had better make sound judgments on the court, not just off it.
With nine seconds left, Bryant got the ball and dribbled up court, making sure he milked the clock. Good decision. Then with about five seconds left he made his move a little left of the lane. The Magic defense collapsed on him as he knew they would. Good decision.
But with men open and Dwight Howard looming in his face, Bryant reached above up to take a jumper. Bad decision.
He had Pau Gasol open, Derek Fisher open. Pass the ball.
Hedo Turkoglu, not giving up on the play, ran the full length of the court and blocked the ball from behind, sending it into the corner, where Turkoglu recovered with 0.6 seconds left.
No time for the Magic to get off a shot. Wrong.
Bryant, guarding rookie Courtney Lee on the inbounds pass, let Lee get away from him. Lee caught the inbounds pass in full stride and threw up a shot as he was going out of bounds. It nearly went in and probably would have if Gasol hadn’t decided to leave his man, Howard, and contest Lee’s shot.
Good decision, Pau. Another bad decision, Kobe.
Clearly Gasol and Lamar Odom were the MVPs of Game Two for the Lakers. They did another excellent job under the boards contesting and blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Although Howard scored 17 points, he was considerably less effective than he had been in the Cleveland series thanks to the play of Gasol and Odom. He was also forced into committing seven turnovers, inexcusable for a center.
As for Bryant, like I wrote in my thoughts after Game One, he needs to turn down the intensity a notch. Yes, intensity is what gets you to the top and keeps you there, but sometimes you can overdo it. And Bryant has overdone it.
Too much intensity can fog your thinking and perception. You don’t see things clearly like Fisher being wide open for the final shot. Maybe Bryant was thinking he had to do it on his own. Or maybe he thought he would draw a foul.
No way that was going to happen. Bryant would have had to get hammered and be lying unconscious on the floor before the referees would call a foul that would decide an NBA Finals match. Probably the only thing they would call at that point is an ambulance for Bryant.
Of course, some will remind me, no doubt, of how Fisher missed a wide open game-winner in the Denver series. This is a different series. Fisher can smell that fourth ring. He was ready last night, and so were Gasol and Odom.
I have the opposite advice for Howard. He needs to turn up the intensity a notch or two.
Go to the basket, Dwight. He who hesitates, loses. You’re 0-2, Dwight, because you hesitate, trying to decide whether to go to the basket or pass it out to your shooters. Meanwhile, you hold the ball out like Gasol does and you get it swiped.
You’re not Gasol. He’s got a jump shot; you don’t.
Stan Van Gundy needs to sit down with Rafer Alston and tell him that he made a mistake and that he should have stayed with Rafer. He has to tell Alston that he’s the man for the rest of the playoffs and that the Magic are counting on him.
Forget the Jamere Holland experiment, Stan Van. You can work that out during the exhibition season. Alston’s your guy. Let him know it.
Better days are coming for the Magic now that they are home in Orlando. Lewis and Turkoglu have found their range once again. Now it’s up to Alston. If Van Gundy has a heart-to-heart talk with him to restore his confidence and Howard goes directly to the basket, Shaquille O’Neal will not get his wish.
This series will definitely go six games if not seven. The Magic will not get swept like Shaq’s Magic did back in 1995.
Remember that, Shaq? Remember how you had home court and still got swept? Remember how Hakeem Olajuwon took you to school four straight nights?
Shaq, I know how bad you want to see that happen to Howard and this Magic team, but it ain’t gonna happen. Count on it. The other thing you can count on is never wearing the purple and gold again. So, stop playing up to Kobe.
And speaking of Kobe, one more criticism of Mr. Intensity.
Stop ragging on Shannon Brown for cutting to the basket and making you look ridiculous on your air ball pass out of bounds. He was doing his job. You were the one who had seven turnovers and wouldn’t give up the ball on that final shot in the fourth quarter.
Well, that’s it for now. I’ll have more to say after Game Three on Tuesday.