Without Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers caused the biggest upset of the season by beating the Golden State Warriors 115-105, led by Nick Young and surprisingly Ronnie Price, although Jeremy Lin was yet another one of the players who felt like the restraints have come off.
Young spoke after the game and compared the situation to being in Django Unchained. Young himself scored 18 points and Price, in his best game of the season added 17. Maybe playing without Kobe Bryant next to him is beneficial in his case as well. Price added 8 assists and for once, it was understandable why he was in the lineup, and getting more minutes than Lin, who wasn’t having his most accurate of games.
Lin scored 11 points and added some moments of great passing and flair, dishing out five assists and showing his prowess and instinct on defense for bad ball handling or passing with three steals. He knocked down three 3-pointers but was only 4-of-11 from the field. Some might call it a missed opportunity for him, but he got to play only 13 minutes before the garbage time of the fourth quarter, in which he played in its entirety. The Lakers played their best and most fun to watch basketball during his earlier moments in the game.
The Warriors, the best team in the league according to their record, were simply stunned. They went back to their messy ways, turning the ball over 19 times, but more than anything it was the absence of Andrew Bogut that stood out. Defensively the Warriors were out of place and sync. Maybe the absence of Kobe Bryant made it all so much more difficult: Nick Young is a much more unpredictable player, and the Lakers actually went to hot hands and open players instead of going through the same routine time after time.
The Lakers lost by 23 and 21 points in their previous encounters with the Warriors this season. They haven’t had trouble putting up points against them, but one cannot ignore the change brought upon by Bryant not playing. Not just in style and strategy, but in spirit as well. Bryant is one huge shadow bearing his weight on this team and its less confident players, and unless he changes his ways or the head coach finds out how to handle him, he’ll continue to be more of a problem than a blessing, which is weird to say about an all-time great.
This wasn’t the best of games for Jeremy Lin, but just like the rest of the team, he flourished in the much quicker, open style that was “enforced” on them by not having to go through the same routine in every possession. The ball doesn’t get stuck, players actually move instead of stand around and waiting for Bryant to notice them by chance. More than anything, it forces defenses to stay focused instead of already knowing how it’s going to end.
Kobe Bryant not playing shouldn’t have this effect on the Lakers and in the long run, they’re not going to suddenly conquer the West. However, unless Bryant changes the way he plays, Byron Scott will be forced (if he even has the power to do it) to use Bryant less and less. The team just looks happy, different, unpredictable and in general, more like how a basketball team should be instead of just a group of servants to an overlord who binds them to do his bidding.