All eyes will be focused on Kobe Bryant Tuesday night as the Lakers attempt to extend the NBA Finals and prevent the Celtics from claiming their 18th title in franchise history.
After five grueling contests, Kobe Bryant is still searching for support from his teammates. The lauded supporting cast led by Pau Gasol and Ron Artest has pulled off a disappearing act.
What was supposed to be the most complete group of players that has ever surrounded Kobe has turned into a collection of underachievers prone to wilting under pressure.
Aside from Derek Fisher, who has arguably been the second-best player on the Lakers throughout the 2010 finals, Kobe has gotten very little help.
It starts with Pau Gasol.
After scoring 48 points and grabbing 21 rebounds combined in Games 1 and 2, Gasol had a minimal impact in the next three games. Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett showed that anything is indeed possible, finding enough life in his legs to give the Lakers fits in Boston.
Gasol has done enough to shed his label of being soft and afraid of the moment. Now it’s time to take the next step towards superstardom by demanding the ball and dominating on the offensive end.
Garnett’s toughness and drive is admirable, but he is obviously playing on one leg. Gasol should look to attack him every trip down the floor. With a huge height and length advantage against Glen Davis, Gasol needs to keep attacking inside and stay off the perimeter.
Ron Artest’s inconsistent play throughout the regular season and playoffs has raised some eyebrows. Aside from a productive Game 1, he has looked uncomfortable on the offensive end. A career 34% 3-point shooter, Artest has been relegated to spotting up on the perimeter. The Celtics are happy to let him fire away in vain.
Andrew Bynum’s knee injury has limited his effectiveness. In 32 minutes in Game 5, Bynum put up D.J. Mbenga-like numbers. Super-sub Lamar Odom’s inconsistent play certainly isn’t a surprise and suggests that he can’t be counted on to deliver in Game 6.
The rest of the Lakers bench doesn’t appear to be the answer either.
Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, and Shannon Brown have produced little during sporadic periods on the court.
It’s clearly on Kobe to win Game 6, and perhaps lift the rest of his teammates from their malaise in the process.
The Celtics will undoubtedly be focused on stopping Kobe once again, bringing an extra defender towards him anytime he puts the ball on the floor. A career 34% shooter in elimination games, he needs to put his head down and get to the foul line early to set the tone.
A strong performance tonight could add another chapter to Kobe Bryant’s legacy and help the Lakers live to fight another day.