By Craig Kwasniewski
Okay I'll get out and say it: the Celtics have figured out how to defend Kobe. Sorry Lakers fans, but your savior hasn't shown the patience to properly defeat the Celtics' well-organized team defense. He's shooting a paltry 39.4% from the field and while working extremely hard to get his 26.7 points. I know, I know... you can never keep an offensive force like Kobe down. One of the next few games he'll blow up with a dominant 30 plus game... right? RIGHT?!?
(BTW - Well organized, that's a total soccer term, but really it applies to the Celtics on defense. They have their game principles and STICK to them all the friggin' time. If this were the World Cup, they would be Italy, with technical brilliance and the ability to contain and control opponents. Yet we never hear the term well organized in basketball because of the game's quick pace, but believe me, the Celtics defense is deserving of this label.)
Anyway, I'm not sure if Kobe has a quality offensive game in him against the Celtics. It takes patience and the willingness to trust in the offense and let the game come to you. It also requires one to listen to a coach saying something... ohhhh like... "Michael, who's open?"
Yep, we've seen this before: The Jordan Rules of the late 80's Pistons. Their physical, intimidating, intelligent and controlling defense was the only thing to contain Michael Jordan in his prime (not including the Birmingham Barrons and the Wizards era). The only way Michael was able to finally conquer Detroit is with the Triangle Offense, based on spacing and most importantly a trust in his teammates. (BTW - It didn't hurt that expansion sent Rick Mahorn away in 1991) Phil Jackson rolled in and got the NBA's greatest individual talent to buy into the team game and poof, Detroit and the Jordan Rules were gone.
I'm not saying that Kobe doesn't buy into the Triangle, but I'm saying that Kobe isn't patient enough to use the Triangle when it's need most...like RIGHT NOW!
As I've said repeatedly, the biggest problem with Kobe is his competitive streak. It's his biggest asset, it drives him to become the player he is today. Working out, improving his game, being one step ahead on conditioning... all these are a result of that competitive streak. But it also leads him into these alpha dog moments. It came out in game two when Ray Allen was on FIYAH hitting literally every three point shot in the gym. Kobe wanted to match Ray, he wanted to take him on and show who's really The Man. Instead of feeding the post and attacking Boston and capitalizing on the Lakers size advantage (especially with literally EVERY Celtics big in foul trouble that day), Kobe dribbled, dribbled and dribbled, looking to hit the home run shot. The Celtics D rotated over and doubled Kobe with the shot clock running down....CLANG! And POOF goes a very winnable game.
The Celtics know Kobe will always get into these contests. He not only wants to win as a team, but he wants to also win as an individual. And at times, it's really hard to tell which one he prefers. Anyway, that plays right into the Celtics defensive principles. All five play what is in essence is a physical match-up zone when Kobe has the ball. The zone principles keep Kobe on the perimeter, knowing that it takes a lot of energy to penetrate the lane. Kobe is left trying to figure the defense as the shot clock winds down. Less than five seconds left, the match-up becomes a straight double team, knowing that Kobe doesn't have time (or the trust) to pass off, and he's left forcing a bad jumper.... CLANG!
Kobe seemed to be pressing much of game 3. It's like he was trying to shoot himself INTO a rhythm. Shoot til you're hot, shoot til you're cold... the true shooter's mantra. Well Kobe was definitely shooting to get hot, the problem was that he never found a rhythm. And the shots that did go in were such high degree of difficulty that anyone not named Kobe would be getting killed for such a horrible shot selection. But Kobe is such a good bad ball shooter (you know, like some golfers being bad ball hitters), that we accept these buckets and just marvel at the sickness.
The problem is that for LA to beat the Celtics (and finally exorcise the demons of '08), Kobe needs to trust that the Triangle Offense and let the game come to him. (It's a overused cliche but really against Boston, Kobe has to trust that he'll find his offensive rhythm in the flow of the Triangle) Game 1 had elements of that, but since then we're seeing more and more of Kobe from the 2008 NBA Finals (who had 25.7 ppg. on 40.5% from the field). Basically the difference is where his shots are coming from. "In rhythm" offense is shots taken in the middle of the shot clock on the wings near the freethrow line extended or in the paint. "Out of rhythm" offense is late in the shotclock, with defenders draped all over him and from the top 1/4 of the three point arc.
It's weird that even in year 14, we as fans still have to hope Kobe will "get it" and play within the system. But he really needs to for LA to win in Game 4 and put this series on the brink.