Thoughts after NBA Finals Game Three: Repeat of '06

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IJune 11, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 09:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers lays the ball up over Mickael Pietrus #20 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic in Game Three of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 9, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I have not come to bury Kobe Bryant; I have come to praise him. Uh, no, I have come to bury him. Well, actually I have come to do both.

Kobe Bryant had a Jordanesque first half. He truly looked like the best player in the NBA, starting out as a facilitator and then becoming a scorer.

His 21 first half points kept the Lakers within five points of the Magic at halftime, despite the Magic shooting an NBA Finals record 75 percent for the half. I really felt that Bryant would break forty by the time the game ended.

But that did not happen. In the second half, something had to give. Either the Magic’s shooting or Kobe Bryant’s scoring. Unfortunately for the Lakers, it was the latter.

Let me throw some numbers out there. The NBA average for players who take a game winning or a game-tying shot in the final 24 seconds is 30 percent. Kobe Bryant’s average over the last six years has only been 25 percent. He has registered 64 attempts in that period but only one assist.

So, obviously he is not the great closer that many fans (as well as he) think that he is. But I will say this: he obviously does not shirk the responsibility for taking that possible game winner in the closing seconds, like many players would. Perhaps that is why his percentage is lower than the average.

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In fact, I can only think of a handful of current players who would demand to take that final shot: Bryant, James, Wade, Nowitzki, Igoudala, Joe Johnson, Allen, Pierce, and perhaps T-Mac and Arenas, when healthy.

The other thing the numbers don’t point out is the number of times Bryant passed off and the player missed the shot. There are no records for missed assists. So, that one assist figure may not tell the whole story, but it certainly is worth noting.

Let me point out some other numbers worth noting: 82 percent, 67 percent, 44 percent, 44 percent. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant. 11, 6, 9, 25. The first numbers are shooting percentages. The second are the number of shots they took last night.

Anyone can see that at the time Kobe tried to do it all, and had Dwight Howard steal the ball, he had both Odom (67 percent) and Gasol (82 percent) as well as Derek Fisher (4/9) open. He got the ball to those three in the first quarter, and the Lakers went out in front.

So, why does he feel that he has to do it all by himself when the game is on the line? Why can’t he trust his teammates to take that shot? If Bryant, the so-called best player in the NBA, does not think that much of his teammates to trust them with that game winner, then maybe this team does not deserve to hold the NBA title in 2009.

Some more numbers for you Laker fans: 0-2 on the road, 3-0 at home, 1-0 on the road. Final outcome: 4-2. And how about these numbers, 98-96?

That was the score of Game Three of the 2006 NBA Finals where Miami just edged out Dallas by two points. They were saying the same thing in Dallas back then that all the pundits are saying today in Los Angeles. If that was the best Miami could do playing at home before an energized crowd, then there is nothing to worry about.

Last night, the Lakers lost Game Three by twice as much as the Mavericks lost their Game Three. Nothing to worry about? Believe me, Lakers fans, there’s trouble in the MAGICAL Kingdom.

Prediction: The Lakers let the Magic get up off the floor and get up a head of steam. Repeat of 2006.

Why? Because the Lakers lost their MO. Bryant has his teammates confused. They don’t know whether he is going to put the game on his shoulders or trust them to shoot. When that happens, they stop moving around and wait for Bryant to do something.

Once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back. Forget about shooting lights out, the Magic won’t need to shoot 62 percent now to beat the Lakers. They just need to trust one another with the ball and make the right decisions, which I’m positive they will do.

By the way, those first two games in 2006 were Dallas blowouts.