Kobe Bryant took command of his team, but he did it the right way.
Bryant had 35 points in the Lakers 119-92 series clinching win over the Denver Nuggets. He also had 10 assists, six rebounds and just one turnover. Now that is how he is supposed to play.
In the Lakers 103-94 Game 5 win he had 22 points and eight assists. He finally gets it. He finally understands that as a superstar you have to pick and choose your spots.
There is a time to be selfless and a time to be selfish. The Lakers needed Bryant to be selfless. They needed Bryant to get his teammates involved. They needed him to encourage Lamar Odom to be more aggressive. They needed him to help Trevor Ariza get is game going.
“I did a great job using my teammates and they knocked shots down,” Bryant said after the game.
The Lakers have too much talent for Bryant to be chucking up a million shots a game. Pau Gasol, Odom, Derek Fisher, etc… are a very good supporting cast. Getting them involved is the only way the Lakers will win it all.
Bryant taking every shot didn’t work against the Celtics last year and it wouldn’t have worked against the Nuggets. Bryant played an economical game against the Nuggets in Game 6. He scored 35, but shot 12 of 20 from the field. In Game 5 he scored his 22 points on 6 of 13 shooting.
Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson was impressed with Bryant’s team-first game and the way the rest of the squad responded. “I thought our collective energy was good [and] I thought our collective intelligence was good,” Jackson said. “That seemed to be the most important thing at this time, being able to read defenses and get the ball in places people can operate.”
Gasol and Odom had 20 points each and Ariza had 17. That’s what the Lakers are going to need to win another title. One guy can’t do it all. Just ask LeBron James.
In the Lakers six playoff losses, Bryant shot 57 of 145 from the field. Need a translation? That’s 39 percent from the field. In the Lakers wins he shooting 115 of 230 from the field. No need for any math there. No one in the league is more talented than Bryant. Sure, LeBron may be more versatile, but when it comes to pure talent, Bryant is second to no one.
But getting out from under Shaquille O’Neal’s shadow hasn’t been easy. And trying to play up to Michael Jordan’s standard has been just as difficult.
Bryant doesn’t need to play to anyone’s standard. He just needs to be himself. To be perfectly honest, that might be the hardest obstacle he’ll face in his career.