NBA Saturday: Kobe Being Kobe
Pau Gasol was sitting at the podium, taking questions from the assembled media shortly after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 99-96, in Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals.
Gasol was answering a question about Kobe Bryant’s late scoring against Derek Fisher, when Bryant walked up and took a seat next to the power forward. As Gasol discussed Bryant’s effectiveness against Fisher, Bryant shook his head and interrupted.
“Are you surprised?” Bryant blurted out. “Dude, come on. Fish is like 5’2. [Expletive].”
At this point in his career, Bryant tells it how he sees it. When you have five championship rings and have solidified yourself as one of the greatest players in NBA history, you can pretty much say whatever you want. He’s extremely blunt and he’s the first one to admit it.
“[He’s] politically correct,” Bryant said, pointing to Gasol. “I’ll give you the real [expletive].”
Bryant doesn’t care what his critics say about him, which may be why he’s such an assassin on the court. Last night, he finished with 36 points, seven rebounds and six assists. While he was perfect from the free throw line (14-14), he did struggle from the field (9-25). Players who worry about their image or legacy while they’re on the floor may have stopped shooting, but Bryant couldn’t care less about how he’s perceived.
“I don’t give a [expletive] what you say,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports after the game. “If I go out there and miss game winners, and people say, ‘Kobe choked, or Kobe is seven for whatever in pressure situations.’ Well, [expletive] you. Because I don’t play for your [expletive] approval. I play for my own love and enjoyment of the game. And to win. That’s what I play for. Most of the time, when guys feel the pressure, they’re worried about what people might say about them. I don’t have that fear, and it enables me to forget bad plays and to take shots and play my game.”
“The fallout is always something that makes some guys hesitant,” Bryant added. “They’re thinking about their legacies, their reputations.”
The most recent example of this was LeBron James in Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers. After missing two crucial free throws in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, James stopped being aggressive and began deferring to his teammates. He didn’t attack the basket or try to initiate contact for the rest of the game. It appeared he was scared of having to go back to the line and knock down more free throws. He would rather not take the shot than take it and miss.
Bryant doesn’t play that way. With under four minutes to play in Game 3, Bryant started attacking the basket on every possession. He hit eight free throws in the final 3:25 of the game, stealing the lead away from the Thunder with each trip to the foul line. Everyone in the building knew that Bryant was going to take the shot or go to the line, and that’s fine with him. With the Lakers’ season on the line, he wanted the ball in his hands.
“In the pressure situations, you’ve always got to want to go to the line,” Bryant said. “You can try to avoid contact, because you don’t want to go to the free-throw line in those pressure situations. Me, I enjoy it.”
Bryant is fearless, which is why you can never count out the Lakers come playoff time. While Los Angeles currently trails Oklahoma City, 2-1, the Lakers got a win when they needed it most last night, avoiding the seemingly insurmountable 3-0 deficit. No team has ever come back to win a series after going down 3-0. Now, the Lakers will have the chance to even the series when they host the Thunder tonight at Staples Center. You don’t think Los Angeles can win tonight?
“Well, [expletive] you.”
Players Pulling For Indiana Over Miami: During last year’s NBA Finals, players from around the league were pulling for the Dallas Mavericks and showing their support by sending encouraging text messages to the team. Like many fans, there were players from a wide variety of teams rooting against the Miami HEAT. After winning the title, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle confirmed that there were many people hoping that Dallas would eliminate Miami.
“I’m so proud of what our team stood for,” Carlisle said after winning the title. “I kept having people come up to me the last three or four days, ‘Hey, there’s billions of people rooting for you guys.’ And we could feel it. We could feel it.”
The Indiana Pacers can feel it as well.
Around the league, there are plenty of players who take pleasure in watching Miami lose. Entering this series, nobody gave Indiana a shot. George Hill said that he didn’t get any of those text messages from players because nobody thought they’d manage to win a game. Now, with the Pacers leading the series 2-1, support is pouring in.
“I have friends around the league who have told me to be aggressive and have encouraged me to play my game,” Paul George said. “I guess that’s their way of saying, ‘Take down Miami.’”
One player, who chose to remain anonymous, texted: “No one likes or respects the Heat.”
The majority of basketball fans are hoping Indiana can upset Miami and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. They aren’t alone, with a large number of players hoping for the same result.
Elias Stats of the Day: Here are some great stats from our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau.
• The 76ers spotted the Celtics a two-touchdown lead, allowing Boston to score the game’s first 14 points, but then roared back to take a 92-83 decision that evened their playoff series at two wins apiece. That was the most points scored by one team to start an NBA playoff game since the 76ers scored the first 15 points in a 107-86 win at Indianapolis in Game Five of an Eastern Conference Semifinals series in the spring of 2000. (By the way, since those 2000 playoffs, 14 teams have scored the first 10-or-more points of an NBA playoff game, and six of those 14 teams, including the Celtics on Friday night, wound up losers.)
• The 76ers actually trailed by 18 points, 49-31, early in the third quarter. Only one other team in the 2012 playoffs has overcome a lead that large to win a game: the Clippers did that in Memphis in Game One of their first-round series, after they had trailed by 27 points. The last time that the Sixers won a playoff game after having trailed by as many as 18 points was in their first game of the 2009 playoffs, when they overcame an 18-point deficit to surprise the Magic in Orlando.
• Kobe Bryant made all 18 of his free-throw attempts while his teammates made 23 of 24 as the Lakers rebounded from their crushing Game Two loss to defeat the Thunder, 99-96. Bryant set a Lakers playoff record for most free throws made in a game without missing any (Gail Goodrich had gone 17-for-17 in a loss at Chicago during a Western Conference Semifinals series in 1971), and he matched the third-highest total of free throws without a miss in any playoff game in NBA history. (Dirk Nowitzki had gone 24-for-24 from the line a year and a day earlier – on May 17, 2011 – also in a victory over the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals; Paul Pierce was 21-for-21 against the Pacers in 2003, and Karl Malone went 18-for-18 against the Lakers in 1997.)
• As a team, the Lakers’ 41-of-42 free-throw shooting gave them second place in NBA playoff history in the category of most free throws made in a game while missing no more than one. The Mavericks went 49-of-50 from the line in a 113-110 victory over the Spurs in Game One of the Western Conference Finals in 2003.
News and Notes: Here are some random news and notes from around the league.
• During the playoffs, Larry Bird has been very hands on with the Indiana Pacers. This season’s Executive of the Year has met with players to offer advice and answer questions as they make this deep postseason run. Bird had a 20-minute phone conversation with Paul George prior to Game 2, which helped the 22-year-old elevate his game. “That was the reason I was able to come out aggressive, just listening to some of the things he told me,” George told HOOPSWORLD. “There’s no better guy to talk to than Larry.”
• The Los Angeles Lakers worked out several draft prospects last week including guards Tu Holloway, Marcus Denmon and Charlie Westbrook. The Lakers only have one pick in the 2012 NBA Draft – the #60 selection – but it sounds like they want to acquire another pick.
• Tonight, Corey Maggette will be hosting a live Q&A with fans on his Facebook page. He will be answering questions, interacting with fans, giving away Charlotte Bobcats’ tickets and gear and bringing on special guests. Tweet questions to #MaggetteO and check out the page here.