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Kobe Bryant Is Playing Out of His Mind

 

Lost amid the 2008 versus 2010 discussion is this fact: Kobe Bryant is playing out of his mind.

Here are Kobe’s shooting stats over LA’s last 11 games, which include their close-out game against Oklahoma City and their series wins over Utah and the Suns:

Overall field-goals: 131-of-253 (52 percent)

Threes: 25-of-60 (42 percent)

Free throws: 75-of-87 (86 percent on 8 attempts per game).

Kobe is averaging 32.9 points per game over those 11 games and has cracked 30 in all but one of them.

Here’s something to ponder: Kobe Bryant enters the 2010 Finals having just played one of three or four best prolonged stretches of high-stakes basketball of his career. 

Bryant did not even approach this level of efficiency in the 2008 Finals, and Boston’s ability to turn Kobe into a low-percentage shooter was near the top of the list of things that swung that series for the Celtics. Kobe averaged 25.7 points per game in the ’08 Finals, but he needed 22 shots to get those points, and he hit just 40.5 percent of his field-goal attempts—and just 32 percent of his threes.

Of course, the Celtics defense looks and feels nothing like the Suns’ D, which ranked 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency and had no shot against Los Angeles. Utah’s defense was solid this season (10th in points allowed per possession), but there is no question that the Lakers are facing an elite defensive team for the first time since they struggled against Oklahoma City.

Some thoughts/predictions:

• Kobe will not be able to duplicate the jump-shooting display he just finished unleashing upon the Suns. Faced with taller defenders (the 6’8” Grant Hill and 6’7” Jared Dudley), Kobe basically abandoned his new-ish post-up game and migrated to the outside, according to numbers from Synergy Sports (via The Painted Area).

Against the Suns, 50 of Kobe’s 140 field-goal attempts (just more than one-third) came from between the foul line and the three-point arc—i.e., long two-pointers. During the regular-season, Kobe hit 41 percent of shots from that range, according to Hoopdata; shooting guards overall hit 39.7 percent of long twos.

Against Phoenix, Kobe hit 29-of-50 of his long twos. That’s 58 percent. That’s crazy. And many of those were tough shots, with Hill or Dudley playing Kobe as closely as a defender can play a shooter without fouling.

If Kobe can keep that sort of long-distance accuracy up for another series, the Celtics will be in serious trouble. The entire notion of regression to the mean says he can’t do it. Regression to the mean is our friend.

• Kobe will attack the Celtics much differently than he attacked Phoenix. I mentioned this earlier, so I won’t belabor it again here, but you can expect to see an awful lot of Kobe in the post against Boston. Kobe attempted about 8.3 long twos per game against the Suns, up from about six per game in the regular season, and he attempted most of those shots out of isolations or spot-up situations, according to Synergy.

Against Phoenix, only 2.9 percent of Kobe’s offensive plays came from post-ups. During the regular season, about 22 percent of Kobe’s offensive plays started with post-ups.

Kobe is shorter than Hill and Dudley. He is taller than Ray Allen and Tony Allen.

Kobe’s not an idiot. Though he’s insanely confident, he probably understands that not even he can continue to hit 60 percent of long, contested two-point jump shots. He understands regression to the mean. The post is going to be Kobe’s friend, and how Boston helps on Kobe post-ups is going to be a crucial factor in this series.

The C’s will obviously mix it up, but expect to see a weak-side defender rotate over to the strong side when Kobe posts up to at least force Kobe in one direction. Also expect some true double-teams, and for Paul Pierce to take the occasional turn defending Kobe. Pierce is beginning enough to deal with Kobe alone, but the C’s can’t afford to play him against Bryant full-time for many, many reasons.

No team is better than Boston at devising rotate-and-recover schemes that force difficult passes and coax the ball toward the least threatening offensive option. Good luck, Tom Thibodeau.

• A connected thought: The Celtics must continue to force a ton of turnovers. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Celtics are forcing turnovers in the playoffs at a rate seldom approached in recent NBA history. Boston opponents are coughing it up on just over 16 percent of their possessions, a defensive turnover rate that dwarfs the league-leading rate during the regular-season (15.1 percent, Golden State).

Since the late 1990s, only one other team that advanced past the first round managed to force turnovers on at least 16 percent of opponent possessions in the playoffs, according to Basketball-Reference.

And if you watch Boston, you see how great the C’s are at forcing turnovers on plays, such as screen/rolls, in which they help and recover. Boston is masterful at getting into passing lanes, making the ball-handler on these sorts of plays hesitate and anticipating where he will eventually throw the ball.

The Lakers aren’t a traditional basketball team, and the Triangle involves far fewer screen/rolls than most teams run. But the concept of helping, recovering and forcing tough passes will still apply, particularly when Kobe posts up.

The Lakers have barely turned the ball over in the playoffs, but their post-season turnover rate (a stingy 11.3 percent) is partly the result of playing six games against Phoenix, which forced turnovers less often than any team in the league this season.

Kobe, for instance, turned the ball over just 15 times in six games against the Suns despite carrying such a heavy offensive load. He committed 21 turnovers combined in the Utah sweep and the final game of the Thunder series.

Boston has managed to keep their defensive turnover rate insanely high through three rounds now. Can they do it one last time?

  • What Can I Say?

    Yes. And Kobe’s FG% will drop as well. The key is…make him earn it.

    Another key is…can KG match Pau’s scoring? I personally believe he has to score more and in order to succeed, he will have to limit Pau’s production vs. take more shots. I’d like to see him shoot around 12 to 15 shots a game, but I’d like to see Pau shoot a % KG shot shot in Orlando.

    Final key. Will Kobe see time on Rondo? The C’s got to make this guy work defensively. He has to work…whether it’s on Ray, or Rondo. Make him work!!!

    C’s in 5. Looking for a split the first two games and a sweep at home. Bold, but doable.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Yes, Kobe will definitely see a LOT of time on Rajon.

  • Jay P

    That’s the beauty of the Kobe/Rondo match up. Kobe has to guard Rondo, and he’ll have to work hard to stay with him.

    Then he’ll have to turn around and carry LA’s offense on the other end. Fisher is not a true PG, and Rondo will be all over him, they need Kobe handling the ball and making the plays, it’s the only way their offense works.

    So Kobe is going to be playing long, hard minutes at both ends of the floor. I’ll say this, if there’s anyone in the NBA that can do it, that has the talent, and probably more important that drive to pull it off, it’s probably Kobe. But it may be too much even for him, only time will tell, and it will certainly be a LOT of fun to watch.

  • http://www.livefromapt.blogspot.com w2

    He is not the only one. I pouched this from CelticsBlog and all props to the poster drza44.

    Beasley.
    ’10 reg season: 14.8 ppg, 45% FG, 1.7 TOs, 30 min/game
    ’10 playoffs Celtics (KG on bench): 19.5 points/30 min, 62% FG, 2.2 TOs/30 min
    ’10 playoffs Celtics (KG in game): 7.7 points/30 min, 32% FG, 3.2 TOs/30 min

    Jamison
    Jamison: ’10 reg season: 18.7 ppg, 46% FG, 1.4 TOs, 36 min
    Jamison: ’10 playoffs (not Boston): 19.4 ppg, 51% FG, 1.8 TOs, 35 min/game
    Jamison ’10 playoffs (Celtics, KG on bench): 26 points/36 min, 56% FG, 0 TOs/36 min
    Jamison ’10 playoffs (Celtics, KG in game): 11.2 points/36, 38% FG, 1.9 TOs/36

    Lewis
    Lewis ’10 Reg season: 14.1 ppg, 43.5% FG, 1.5 TOs, 33 min
    Lewis ’10 playoffs (not Boston): 16.4 ppg, 54% FG, 1.8 TOs, 37 min
    Lewis ’10 playoffs (Celtics, KG on bench): 17.3 pts/36 min, 48% FG, 1.3 TOs/36
    Lewis ’10 playoffs (Celtics, KG in game): 5.2 pts/36, 24% FG, 2.0 TOs/36

    Gasol…you next!

  • Dmoney

    Kobe will shut rondo dwn many ppl only remember kobe for his offensive game but some remember kobe has defense to be reckoned with

  • Eran

    @w2 Amazing stats. Didn’t know it also broke down like that when KG is on/off the court. Kobe will get his points but his FG% won’t be anything near what it was against the Suns.

    If KG can limit Gasol, Kobe will be forced to take most shots, all rest of the Lakers will start getting frustrated, next thing you know they’ll start blaming one another, their fragile social cohesion will disintegrate, and they’ll be blown out…

  • Eran

    @Dmoney Kobe didn’t manage to shut Rondo down at all in their last meeting On Jan 31 as a far as I remember.

  • DK

    Kobe and Artest can only defend two of the three Celtics big scorers (Rondo, Allen, Pierce.) Someone’s always going to have a favorable match-up to exploit.

  • KY Celts fan

    Kobe and the Lakers have not seen any defense like the one they are about to face. Phoenix’s best defense was their attempt at zone, and LA still shot over 50% in those games. Utah may have been a top defensive team in the regular season, but Boozer, Okur, and Kirilenko were all injured for the playoffs. Only OKC played anything close to Boston’s D (and even that is miles away) and if it wasn’t for a failed blockout, would have forced a game 7.

    On our side, we’ve seen some great defenses and offenses in Orlando and Cleveland, both of whom were favored against the Lakers. And we picked them apart leaving nothing but bones on the desert floor.

    Lakers should be scared. Very scared.

  • Coolin

    Pierce will have to spend more energy on the defensive end gaurding Kobe and in turn Ray will have to up his scoring on the offensive end. The Celtics win this championship on the defensive end and Pierce will be up for the challenge, especially with it being Kobe and LA his hometown. Paul loves playing against his boyhood favorites.

  • sonicreducer

    I remember a lot of the same things being said last time the C’s ended up winning it all, that Cleveland was better, that the Lakers were unbeatable. Especially this year I could understand it, they (comparatively) sucked in the regular season, the Lakers are the defending champs after all and Kobe is playing better than any man alive, but something that strikes me as odd is the fact that most pundits had either Orlando or Cleveland in the Finals and many had either of them winning it all. Boston destroyed 2 teams that fully 60% or more people had winning it all and now they’re the underdogs? I don’t understand that part of it really. For me this speaks a lot more to sportswriters’ desire to make a novelty/sexy pick. Before the playoffs the smart money was on the Lakers but going into the playoffs the team that’s gone down the harder road is the Celtics. For reasons that are a little hard for me to understand, the Celtics are not a trendy team to pick. Maybe it’s because the way they play makes their opponent look they’re messing up more than it makes them look talented. But the Lakers, and the Lebronairs as well, just look unstoppable, even when they can’t get a stop of their own. Oh well, I guess that’s why they play the games.

  • Doug

    Kobe in ’08 playoffs:

    30.1 PPG
    5.7 RPG
    5.6 APG
    48% FG
    That includes the 08 Finals against Boston

    2010 Playoffs
    29.4 PPG
    5.1 RPG
    6.2 APG
    48% FG

    Kobe is not playing any better than he was in 2008 when he was ya know the MVP of the league it only seems that way since no one remembers anything about the 08 playoffs but the Finals

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @doug: The last 11 games represent one of the great stretches of Kobe’s career. See Hollinger’s piece at ESPN today as well.

  • Jay Cutler

    I don’t think Ray’s been that consistent with the jumpshot this postseason when chased off the 3pt line. With JJ Reddick on him he was a willing on excellent passer but outside from his occasionaly (timely) hot streaks he missed quite a few we’d expect him to make.

  • NHBluesMan

    i’ve been wanting this rematch since the play-offs of last year. Things might have been different if Garnett and Powe had been healthy, but thats in the past now. I’m amazed however from reading comments all over ESPN of how dumb both C’s and Lakers fans can be. Its one thing to be confident in your team, its another thing to just sound stupid (neither team will sweep, regardless of what you think).

    Sure the Lakers have Bynum now, but Perk shut down Dwight, he can handle Bynum. And since Bynum is playing injured, when Odom comes in, then we switch Perk to Gasol (the match-up from ’08), and i feel like he can shut him down too. Rondo has been playing great, and while Kobe can slow him down or limit his points, he can’t stop Rondo’s floor vision and passing.

    I feel like Artest will either have a great series, or crack under the pressure of the Finals. He’ll make Paul work for his points (Pierce prob won’t have the same average as in ’08, but i’m expecting him to show up big in 1 or 2 games). But the bigger thing is, how much time will Pierce play gaurding Kobe? Guarding LeBron gave Pierce about all he could handle, and while Kobe isn’t as explosive as LeBron, Pierce will have his hands full.

    Only person i’m worried about on the Lakers bench is Odom, although he’s inconsistant at best. The rest basically just serve as extra bodies to throw on the court and maybe account for afew points.

    I feel like the BIGGEST difference from this year to ’08 is the fact that the Celtics are winning on the road in hostile environments. Remember in ’08, where our first road win didn’t come till the ECF’s? We had what, 2 road wins in those playoffs?

    If the Celtics can come into LA and steal 1 of 2 (preferably game 1) and then take care of business at home and get 2 out of 3, i feel like our best bet to win it all would be to take it in 6 games. Game 7 in LA would be too dangerous, and while Game 6 would be in LA, i think the Celtics can pull it out.

    C’s put the breaks on Flash, dethroned the ‘King’, and just got done pulling off Supermans phony cape… now its time to hunt some black mamba!!

    Celtics in 6, but it will be the hardest series we’ve encountered so far this post-season, and EVERYONE will need to step up big! (i’m looking for Nate to have another huge game for us, and he could even be a factor in the series)

  • Doug

    @ Zach If your numbers are correct in the piece u just wrote then Kobe was playing better in the 08 playoffs considering he ended the playoffs averaging 30.1 yet only avg. 25 against the Celtics which means he avg. more than 30 going into the Finals also if he shot 40% against the Celtics and still shot 48% for the playofs he was obviously shooting over 48% going into the Finals.

    All his numbers dropped across the board against the Celtics yet he still avg better stats then than he is now despite not even playing the Celtics yet

  • Doug

    In the 08 playoff Kobe only shot under 48% in 1 playoff game going into the Finals compare that this year where has shot under 48% 7 times already

    He had 10 30 point games going into the Finals in 08. He also scored 27.3 in 3 other games

    He has 10 30 point games in 10 going into the finals. In no other game has he scored more than 24.

    In 08 they also played Denver, Utah, And San Antonio compared to OKC, Utah, and Phoenix. Which 3 are the harder defensive matchups?

  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    The sportswriters out there are now bonafied actors if you ask me. They are all part of the good ol boys club that are all after the same thing.——RATINGS—-Every one of them knows who the better of the 2 teams is right now –Ahhhhh the C’s– they are there to build the drama as much as they can cause it’s their job. As far as how well Kobe has been playing, point taken. However, do not in the least bit despair my Celtic brothers, as we all know that this was accomplished against teams that have defenders who would have a hard time staying in front of my sister. Besides of all these so-called experts, the most knowledgeable of all—-Tim Legler–picks Boston in six. Word!!!!!!

  • DRJ1

    I think I can appreciate the attraction of pessimism, or, more euphemistically, apprehensiveness. There’s a certain delicious satisfaction, I imagine, in having your worst fears negated, and your best dreams come true. It’s interesting to see how many bloggers tend in that direction. Must be a reason…

    There are ALWAYS plenty of reasons to worry about your opponent, in ANY matchup. Lots of ways things can go wrong.

    But there is a bottom line here. Our starting five is IDENTICAL to that of 08. Except for the fact that Rondo is twice the player he was back then, and Perk is much improved as well. Nobody is worse (not even, and especially not, KG).

    The Lakers have clearly improved in just ONE position: Artest. (I consider Bynum subtraction by addition.) We need to remember that Ron Artest is a bona fide nutjob, and not very smart. He is likely to make at least one or two critical mistakes in this series. And whatever you think of RonRon, he is no Pippen to Kobe’s quasi-MJ. Not even close.

    The Lakers remain a team dependent on ONE guy. Such teams CAN win championships, of course… but not when there’s another team they must face that knows how to play defense.

    The Celtics will beat LA, and I don’t think it will be as difficult as many now imagine.

  • http://carlosrizik@gmail.com Carlos R.

    Yes, Kobe is playing awesome, but let’s remember something: 8-20 fga/fgm, 19 points in 45 minutes, with 4 turnovers. Those were the numbers of Kobe at Boston on Jan 31, when the C’s were playing not so well like they are doing now, specially at the defensive end (LA shot almost 48% in that game). Yes, he did make the winner shot (after all, he’s Kobe) but overall it wasn’t a good performance. If the C’s can keep him around these statistics during the Finals, let’s say 25 points in 25 attemps or 30 points in 27-30 attemps, I like our chances in 5-6 games.
    Paul Gasol, whom many analists see as an “x” factor, scored 11 and 22 in two games against the C’s in the regular season. If the Lakers want to win, Pau has to score 19-22 at least 4 times, and I don’t see that happening.
    How about Rondo? Well, he did pretty well against the Lakers: 2 Games, 15-33 fga/fgm, 23 assists, 4 to. There’s no need to say how well Rondo is playing now, do I?
    My only concern is health. We need Baby, Sheed, TAllen and Perkins at 100%, and they all have injury issues coming thursday. But if Bynum’s nagging knee keep bothering him, maybe both teams will be even in the health checklist.

  • Sophomore

    @DRJ1 – I’m guardedly optimistic for the series, too, but they’re better than they were 2 years ago. Bynum gives them a physical presence inside that they lacked two years ago and probably takes Perk off Gasol. (No way KG can stand up to Bynum’s bulk.) Being able to bring Odom off the bench at the 4 is a luxury – much better than having whoever it was (do any of us even remember?). Gasol is better, too, and knows how to play with this team.

    All that said, I’m not saying we won’t win. But the Lakers should be better than they were.

  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    One x factor we must be aware of is the Kendrick Perkins technical situation. Not if, but when the C’s begin to take control of this series I guarantee the officials will turn to this ploy to try and equalize things.(good for David Stern’s rating plan) meaning they will look to toss Perk if he even looks at them the wrong way. The commisioner’s office thought ahead about the Perkins situation during the Orlando series and decided not to resind both techs on Perk for an obvious reason. They are using him as their trump card just in case things start getting out of hand for Stern’s beloved Lakers.Am I being paranoid here? Please give me your thoughts on this issue.

  • Chris O.

    @ Doug…nice stats man. I’m not going to lie but you gave me another reason to disregard Hollinger…not that there is any evidence why I should listen to him anyways…since he picked the Cavs and Magic to each beat us in 5 (I believe it was 5 each)…hmmmm I’m just glad he picked LA.

  • DRJ1

    @Stephen– Your fears re the refs are well-founded. Nevertheless, I am HOPING (maybe against hope, but still hoping) that they will be very fair… let the players decide the outcome. Reason: too much noise about the refs lately. Too many threats from fans saying they’re ready to jump the NBA ship. Too much media attention. Too huge a venue. For these reasons, I think it’s a reasonable hope.

    But… we just don’t know. They may be tempted if it looks like a sweep… but I tellya, I have to agree just a LITTLE with the pessimists in that this will not be a total cakewalk…. so that situation is not likely to arise.

  • jpbl1976

    Yeah… Kobe has been playing well but people forget that Lebronze (hey, he has never won NBA gold) was playing well too until the Celtics blitzed the Cavs.

    Also, if you look at the 08 stats, Kobe was actually playing BETTER than he is this time going into the Finals that year. That was actually what got quite a few ‘experts’ to believe LA would win it all that year, especially because Boston had a rough 3 rounds going in.

    Boston had a lot to do with actually bringing Mamba’s ’08 numbers down across the board so much so that they are comparable with his numbers in 2010.

    Besides, no one should take anything that Hollinger says seriously. If the guy were really as good at statistics as he’s purported to be, he’d be working as a quant at a hedge fund. His models amount to no more than some nicely-formatted spreadsheets and he himself admits he adds a fudge factor to fit his data. I’d rather go with Dave Berri’s win score/wins produced which show that Wade and Ginobili are better.

    Besides, Hollinger has been betting against the Celtics in nearly every round — and he is the same ‘genius’ who asserted that the Lakers are the NBA’s greatest franchise.

  • The Dude Abides

    Zach’s referring to the way Kobe’s played since getting his knee drained, not all 16 of his playoff games. And the Lakers are obviously a much better team than the 2008 version. Gasol has more than four months playing the triangle, and the top six players in the rotation are much improved over those in 2008:

    Bynum + Gasol + Artest + Kobe + Fish + Odom (2010)
    Gasol + Odom + Radmanovic + Kobe + Fish + Sasha (2008)

  • KY Celts fan

    “The last 11 games represent one of the great stretches of Kobe’s career.”

    All good things must come to an end. Just wait til he hits that Big Green Wall.

  • torpid bunny

    Zach, isn’t Ray going to be on Kobe? What do you think about that? Wasn’t Ray important in limiting him in 2008?

    My father-in-law told me Ray runs like 8-10 miles a day or something, which I find relevant.

  • Bojo

    Jesus will have monster series.

  • http://www.thecampussocialite.com Brad Wellen

    For a complete breakdown of the Celtics-Lakers Finals matchup and its historical implications, check out http://bit.ly/d4kBv8

  • Desperado

    Celtics are old…the magic punched them back and almost knocked them out if it wasn’t for them stealing homecourt we’d have a rematch of last year…kobe will not be stopped…he is playing the best basketball of his career…explosive smart hungry basketball…Celtics have a shot if they steal game 1 otherwise…its’ Lakers time…magic told me so…

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