Kobe Bryant watched Kevin Durant attempt 26 shots; he saw Russell Westbrook take 22 shots. Still, the master of forgetting about your teammates and going on a solo mission to improve his scoring average did what’s best for the Los Angeles Lakers, not his own individual stat sheet, and came away with the team’s biggest win of the season.
The Lakers are still 19-25, four games away from the 8th spot in the West, but this wasn’t a win against the Cavaliers or some other Eastern Conference team that loses the game before they even get on the plane to the West coast. These were the Oklahoma City Thunder, who usually play well in “lets prove something games”, who just beat the Los Angeles Clippers less than a week ago in the same stadium.
This was the Lakers’ first win over a top 4 team in the Western conference this season after losing its first 8 games to the Thunder, Clippers, Spurs and Grizzlies.
But the Lakers needed some sort of not-so-secret meeting to change the way they play basketball. It might tell you something about how much they think of their head coach, but that will be a talk for damage assessment when this season is over. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have taken over, but in a good way. Controlling the pace, the tempo, and the way this team plays basketball.
Maybe it’s an overall effort by the team to be a team and not a group of individuals, but the change is obvious when you look at the way Bryant was playing. Responsible and smart. He scored 21 points on 8-12 from the field, and theory of Bryant shooting less meaning more for the Lakers worked wonders again: When he takes less than 19 shots, the Lakers are 13-3 this season. When he takes 20 or more? Only 6-22.
So Bryant almost got a triple double again: 9 rebounds, 14 assists, and saving his individual effort for the end, when the Thunder were all but expecting him to pass to open men. First it was a big shot from the corner over Kevin Durant; the end was some nice dribbling causing Thabo Sefolosha to lose his footing and leave Bryant with an open jumper to seal the 105-96 win. The last time Bryant had 14 assists on consecutive games was December 2002.
A key to the Lakers looking better has been the pace of the game, allowing them to look better on defense as well. They had a pace of 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes in the win, 3.4 less than their average. This resulted in shooting an effective field goal percentage of 61, and score in a pace of 110 points per 100 possessions.
Dwight Howard didn’t have to be good. He got into foul trouble, scored only 8 points and was an awful 2-10 from the line. Pau Gasol picked up the slack with 16 points. There’s a right way for the Lakers to play basketball after all, and a big part of it has to do with Kobe Bryant fighting his own natural tendencies to take over the show, in a bad way. Now it remains to be seen if this revelation regarding their basketball abilities didn’t come to late in the season, and how long can it last.