Pivot Points: Kobe Bryant Goes from Exasperated to Exalted

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IDecember 16, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers in action against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA game at Oracle Arena on November 28, 2009 in Oakland, California.  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 Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

I guess there is a reason Kobe Bryant makes millions playing basketball, while I make nothing trying to decipher his motives and reasons for his different actions on the court.

In a complete about-face from his awful shooting display in Utah on Saturday night, Bryant poured in a season-high 42 points against the Chicago Bulls, and rendered my previous assumptions an exercise in foolishness.

Kobe followed his dismal 7-24 shooting night against the Jazz with a 15-26 gem, which saw Bryant score a remarkable 20 points in the first quarter, on a wide variety of shots that covered every angle of the court.

I questioned Kobe's shot selection in the Lakers' earlier loss, but I am now led to believe that Bryant was just gauging his range of motion with his broken finger, and his 8-12 first quarter shooting performance bears that out. 

In hindsight, Kobe's sublime performance was much needed because his teammates were engaged in a session of role-reversal for much of the evening against the Bulls.

All of the things that make Los Angeles special escaped its grasp for the majority of Tuesday night's game except for the brilliance of Kobe Bryant.

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Pau Gasol had 10 points and 16 rebounds, but was out-hustled by the Bulls' Joakim Noah who had six blocks, and many of them were a result of Gasol's uninspired play in the post.

Gasol previously had the reputation of a soft player, but has worked hard to shed that image. It returned with a vengeance last night as Gasol seemed to attack the rim with limited ferocity, and was continuously rebutted by Noah.

In fact, the Bulls had an astounding 14 blocks and out-rebounded the taller Lakers, 51-37. Even guard Kirk Hinrich got into the act, blocking a total of three shots himself.

Ron Artest missed a bevy of wide open three point shots and had one of his worst shooting performances of the year in going 3-14 from the floor—shots that he has to make in order for the Lakers to be complete.

In fact, Kobe would have had double digit assist numbers if Artest had only connected on a fraction of his shots—due to the Bulls' constant doubling of Bryant in the second half.

The Lakers' defense was out of sync, also, as Derrick Rose enjoyed multiple unimpeded trips to the paint only to find limited resistance at the rim on his way to a team-high 21 points.

The Lakers' inability to contain quick point guards is nothing new—because they have a tendency to be weak at the point of attack—but the fact that no one challenged the Bulls after the defense had become compromised is unacceptable.

In Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers have a luxury that few NBA teams can claim—two athletic seven-footers to defend the paint. The Bulls challenged the validity of their worth the entire evening.

At times it appeared Chicago was playing volleyball or keep away, as the bigger Lakers were unable to challenge the Bulls in the battle for rebounds, and they were decimated in the hustle category as well.

The game remained tight until a spark by reserve Shannon Brown, and some timely defense finally put the game away late in the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles has to realize that every game they play on the road is going to be their opponents' most motivated performance, their own championship, because these were not the same Bulls that were blown out at home by Toronto.

The Lakers have to show the same fire and passion to win as their extremely motivated, and at least by me, underestimated leader Kobe Bryant.

Kobe did on Tuesday night what his teammates were unable to do on Saturday, carry the Lakers to a lethargic victory over an overmatched opponent, with the pain of a broken finger lingering in his head.

Kobe said that the pain of this injury is different from his previous hand injuries and the discomfort is sometimes unbearable, but you would be hard-pressed to agree with that assessment Tuesday night.

Kobe delivered another performance to add to his legend and Artest may have summed it up best when he said that Kobe is the toughest talent that he has ever played with, and having to play through injury adds to his motivation.

Who am I to argue with the display that I witnessed against the Chicago Bulls? Kobe has silenced the doubts that I had about his shot-selection and once again proved why he may be the best talent in the NBA.