Was the Game 4 Lakers’ loss Kobe Bryant’s greatest game ever? The Phoenix Suns show they have what it takes to dethrone the Lakers.
It looked at times as if Kobe Bryant was taking on the entire Suns team on his own. Bryant’s 38 points and amazing shooting wasn’t enough to stop the force of the blazing Suns. Phoenix tied the series, steal momentum and place the Lakers in a must win Game 5 situation. Let’s recap the game progression, and analyze Kobe Bryant’s incredible shooting performance.
1st Quarter Recap
The Phoenix Suns started the game making just 3 of their first 13 shot attempts. 5:30 mark Lamar Odom entered the game for LA sparking a 9-0 run to give the Lakers a 5 point lead. 2:20 Luke Walton made a cameo appearance in this series, replacing Kobe Bryant for an early rest. Bryant had just one missed shot attempt in the quarter for zero points. 1:05 Pau Gasol picked up his second foul and was replaced by Andrew Bynum. The 1st quarter ended in a 23 – 23 tie. Lakers shot 50% FG
2nd Quarter Recap
Dragic started the second quarter in place of Steve Nash. 7:02 the heavens opened for Phoenix and after missing 17 straight shots in this series, Shannon Frye made a 3-pointer. This sparked a 44-34 Phoenix lead by 6:04 mark. After a Lakers time-out, Kobe Bryant made two back to back 3-point shots. 5:12 Steve Nash re-entered the game. The next 6 Phoenix Suns made baskets were 3-pointers. Suns won the quarter 41-32 shooting 55% FG slightly better than the Lakers 52% FG. Leading scorers in the quarter were Kobe Bryant with 15 points (6 of 9 FG) for LA, and surprisingly Shannon Frye for Phoenix with 11 points off the bench. (Bryant had zero points and one FG attempt in the first 15 minutes of game time.)
In the first half the Suns bench outscored the Lakers bench 34-11. Suns also had an edge in 3-point land making 50% 8 of 16, compared to just 4 of 13 for the Lakers.
64-55 Suns lead at half-time.
3rd Quarter Recap
Down 9 to start the 3rd quarter, Kobe Bryant led his Lakers back, tying the game 81-81 with a 3-pointer at the 2:08 mark. Kobe would leave the game to rest with 48 seconds left in the quarter.
After a playoff high 41 points in the 3rd quarter alone, the Suns scored just 21 points in the 3rd quarter but still clung to a 1 point lead 85-84.
4th Quarter Recap
Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum started the 4th quarter for LA, while Phoenix entrusted their 1-point lead to all bench players. 10:45 mark Jordan Farmar’s 3-pointer gave the Lakers an 87-85 lead. The Suns would respond by making three 3-pointers in a row to extend to regain the lead 98-89 (6:35). Suns broke the game open on a 15-2 run for the largest lead of the night (13).
Much like the first Quarter Kobe didn’t have a shot attempt in the first 9 minutes of the 4th quarter.
The Suns offensive rebounds for second shot opportunities and their bench play was the difference in the game.
3 Factors for Suns Game 4 Victory
Offensive rebounds for second shot opportunities for the Suns and 3-point shooting production expose a lack of heart for the Los Angeles Lakers defense. Phoenix out-rebounded the Lakers 51-36. The Suns shot the long ball 11 of 30 compared to 9 of 28 for the Lakers. Those stats don’t suggest much of an advantage for Phoenix. However it was the Suns ability to score 3-pointers in bunches in a short period of time that crushed the Lakers defense. In the second quarter they made six in a row, and 3 in a row in the 4th quarter, both significant offensive runs that propelled Phoenix to victory. The bench play of the Suns has given Phoenix the depth to win a championship. Lakers bench was 8 of 30 FG, Suns bench was 20 of 32 FG.
Was Game 4 Kobe Bryant’s greatest game ever?
Lost in the wake of the playoff loss is perhaps the greatest performance of Kobe Bryant’s career. 38 points, we read on the stat sheet like a mantra, we’ve seen it before, and it’s no surprise. So how do we conclude this to be his greatest performance? Here is how:
Kobe Bryant played 44:42 minutes in the game. He attempt just one shot in 24 of those minutes (one attempt in the first 15 minutes of the 1st quarter, and zero attempts in the first 9 minutes of the second quarter). His 38 points came in 20:42 seconds of game action. That is an average of nearly 2 points per minute. In the fast pace of the Suns style of play (scoring in 12 seconds or less), each team would have on average 2 or 3 possessions of the potential 5 possessions per minute of the game.
If Kobe took just one shot every three Lakers possessions, he would have a potential of 45 shot attempts. If he made only 68% as he did in Game 4 he would have 30 makes. Kobe had a playoff career best 6 made 3-pointers (out of 9 attempts) thus 40% of his makes were 3-pointers, 40% of the 30 makes would equal 12 three-point makes for 36 points and 18 two-point makes for 36 points as well for a total of 72 points. Kobe was just 2 of 4 FT in Game 4, would have had an average of 8 free-throws which if he made his typical playoff average 75% FT he would have had an additional 6+ points from the FT line, for a game total of 78 total points. This is a conservative estimate based on Kobe taking just one shot attempt per minute (one out of every 3 Lakers’ possessions) and making just 8 of 10 FT in the game.
Impossible? On January 22, 2006 against the Toronto Raptors Kobe Bryant scored 81 points on 28 of 46 shooting (7 of 13 three-pointers), and 18 of 20 FT. If we calculate the additional 10 FT attempts and 10 FT makes as he had in the Toronto game, Kobe would have scored 88 points in Game 4 against the Suns. I almost forgot to mention in the Toronto 81-point game Bryant also had 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. In Game 4 Kobe added 7 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
One could argue it’s been 5 ½ years since he poured in 81 points against the Raptors. Kobe is older, and he may have gotten too tired to shoot that efficient. I’ll argue he played just 42 minutes in the 81 point regular season game against a scrub Toronto Raptors team. Game 4’s potential 88 points were in 44:42 minutes of intense road playoff game after only one day of rest. Any way you slice it Kobe is a stud, the best player in the NBA, and is making the case to be (dare I say) better than Michael Jordan! As Phil Jackson has been quoted as saying, it’s not just the points Kobe scores, but how he scores them. Jackson conceded the degree of difficulty on Kobe Bryant’s shots outweigh Michael Jordan’s clutch shooting. Kobe’s in-your-face 3-pointers in Game 4 were evidence of that.
As it was, Bryant averaged just 1 shot attempt for every 2 minutes and one made shot every 3 minutes and ended up with 38 points which is an average of 1.8 points per minute that he played. Multiply 1.8 times 45 minutes he played and you get 81 points. (That’s with Kobe shooting just 50% FT) .
The Suns have no answer for Kobe Bryant who is averaging 33.5 points per game in this series (10 more than he did in the first round of the Playoffs, along with 9.8 APG (+5.5 from first round), 6.5 RPG (compared to 4.0 in first round). The fact that Kobe was playing at such a high level that 88 points was attainable is mind-boggling! The way his Lakers’ teammates are playing, Kobe just might have to score 90+ points to win. The scary thing is the stats show he can do it!
Game 5 Prediction
I for one am hoping the Black Mamba will explode the Suns zone for a huge game 5 performance. As a team, the Lakers must win the battle of the boards, contest 3-point shots, control the tempo of the game with time-outs, gain improved production from their bench, and play inspired defense if they are to win another game in this series. Home court advantage for the Lakers, a must win for LA. Game 5 Prediction: Lakers win by 4.
The Orange County Register