Sunday, June 08, 2008

Kobe & 22.8 seconds left

With the Celtics leading the Lakers 106-102 with 22.8 seconds left in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant ran himself out of the play -- and I still don't know why.

I have rewound the Tivo a few times since the game ended five minutes ago, and each time I get more and more confused.  Here's what happened.

With 22.8 seconds left, Kobe Bryant inbounded the ball from the near-side to Paul Gasol on the near-side wing.  Bryant immediately took off to his left, around a Sasha Vujacic screen, under the basket and out to the far side, completely away from the play and eliminating all possibility of a non-Ryan-Leaf-pass in a desperate attempt to get him the ball.  As Bryant ran down and back up the far side, Gasol struggled to find someone to get the ball to.  Radmonovic flashed to the top of the arc and got the ball.

Radmonovic looked to Kobe and saw two Celtics obstructing his view.  Had he passed it, the Lakers would never have even gotten a shot off.  He took one dribble and slung the ball to an off-balance Vujacic, whose three-point attempt brushed off the out-stretched fingertips of Paul Pierce.  The Celtics grabbed the air ball, and the Lakers' fate was sealed by a few free throw conversions.

Now, here's what I don't understand.

First, let me just say I like the idea of Kobe inbounding the ball.  Before the play, I told my friends Brad and Ozzie to look for either Kobe or Vujacic to inbound to leave the possibility of a give and go with the inbounder for a hard-to-guard three-point attempt.  My thinking was Vujacic inbounds to Kobe, who draws two defenders and gives Vujacic some time to get open for a three-pointer to bring the game within one point.  That would have taken at the most five or six seconds.

Instead, Bryant inbounded to Gasol who seemed flabbergasted once the play began.  From there, the Lakers never had even a chance to get the ball to their best player - correction, the league's best player.  Something tells me that the Zen master over-thought this one or that Bryant got his wires crossed.  Bryant isn't a run-away-from-the-play guy (see the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter for examples of this *cough* Josh Howard *cough*).  He wanted the ball, and he was visibly frustrated after the Lakers failed to convert on that possession.  

So then why run out of the play and never get yourself in position to even get the ball?

The Celtics defense was ready for it, I suppose, but in watching the replay (I think I'm up to 12 or 13 times now), Kobe Bryant could have inbounded the ball, aggressively moved to his left to one foot inside the arc before quickly popping back out.  Gasol flips the ball back to Bryant, who by virtue of quickly changing direction has shed his defender, for a three-point attempt by the most clutch shooter in the league.  

It didn't happen.  

And now the Lakers find themselves in a 0-2 series hole as they head back to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday.  Over the next two days, I look forward to some explanation of just what exactly was the logic behind Bryant running himself out of the deciding play of Game 2.

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