So now we’ve had a few hours to let this sweet, sweet victory simmer. During this time, various outlets of sports punditry have come to some conclusions re: Kobe’s role in the loss. Now, like most things about Kobe, the dialogue surrounding the relationship between his production and his team’s results drives me a little bonkerballs. Today’s debate is no exception. Here’s a brief summary of the media reaction to today’s game:
“Kobe singlehandedly took his team out of the game with his shooting! He made so many shots his teammates temporarily lost interest in playing basketball! You could see the disgust and resentment in their eyes as they watched Kobe selfishly make shot after shot, with no regard for whether or not someone else might like to make a shot sometime! Bottom line: if Kobe hadn’t made so many shots, the Lakers might have won this game!”
What I don’t like about this argument, besides the fact that it’s idiotic, is how it implies that Kobe is so powerful only Kobe can hurt Kobe. The Lakers scored 96 points in a slow-paced game against a top 3 defense. That’s not bad. In a game where the Celtics scored 109 points, is there any possibility that this game might have been lost not because Kobe shot too much, but instead because of stuff that happened on the other end of the floor? Could that other stuff have been what made this guy was so sad?
Because the Celtics offense quietly rolled over the Lakers today. Paul Pierce, who you may have heard has scored more points per game against the Lakers than any other team in his career, hit stepbacks from everywhere. He and a few other guys combined for 9-17 from 3. Rajon Rondo picked up 15 assists in the second half, part of a team total of 34. You know all this. So why isn’t anyone talking about the crappy Laker defense?
It’s true that there was something quiet about the C’s offensive dominance tonight. Uncharacteristically quiet: when the C’s play good teams this year, we’re used to watching them A) fall behind with the bench in the game before clawing back with dramatic 3’s and defensive stands or B) lose a big lead in the second half. But in this game, they took the lead with 6:30 to go in the 3rd and never lost it again. So, so great to see at this point in the season, especially when last January 31st the Celtics lost to the Lakers on a fourth-quarter collapse that had become standard operating procedure at that point. Instead, tonight it was this guy who went home disappointed:
The Lakers’ problem today wasn’t that Kobe shot 55%. Their problem was that the Celtics shot substantially better than that. Exorcising a few demons from last June, the Celtics shot better as they went along, notching a 67% from the floor in the second half. Seemingly all of those points came as a result of one player setting a screen, another player flying off that screen, and a third player with chapstick in his sock knowing exactly when to get him the ball.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the game was basically over when the C’s turned a 3-point lead into 9 on threes from Ray and Nate within 40 seconds of each other, both from Rondo assists. Rondo was at his best tonight finding guys open from beyond the arc. Half of Rondo’s assists in the second half (not including the late ones in garbage time) led to three points, a credit both to Rondo’s awareness and his teammates’ ability to set and curl off of screens.
But my favorite assist of the night was probably yours too: when Nate pulled up for a catch-and-shoot three, only to huck the ball to a hungry Glen Davis under the basket, who used the great position Nate gave him to muscle a layup through two defenders. That basket brought the score to 89-80, and effectively iced the game so that this guy’s entire day was ruined:
BACK TO KOBE FOR A LONG SECOND
I find this Kobe-centric discussion to be related to Henry Abbott’s new-classic Truehoop post on Kobe’s clutchitude, or lack thereof. My issue with that post, and almost every contribution to this debate, is that I don’t feel it really responds to the actual question, which is usually framed as “Who do you want taking the last shot of the game?”
For some reason, this question of all questions is usually in the second person, much like “If you’re building a team from scratch, who’s your first pick?” In these scenarios you, inexplicably, are in charge. It’s about who you want taking the shot.
So why do we use data that depends on game situations which you, if you were Basketball God, clearly wouldn’t replicate? Numbers measuring clutchery are so, so heavily influenced by the perceived threat of a player’s teammates and how a defense predicts a last-second play call. Kobe is not ever the only player on the floor, so the data doesn’t really measure his ability to make shots at the end of the games, so much as the effectiveness of his team’s strategy.
With the game on the line, everyone knows Kobe’s getting the last shot. The players on the court, the fans in the seats, the Mole People living underneath the stadium: they all know where the ball’s going. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, the guy who performs best using clutch metrics, plays alongside a player whose nickname is “Big Shot,” leaving some chance that the other guy might end up with the ball in his hands.
Here’s my point: you can’t really say, “I wouldn’t want Kobe shooting the last shot because he wouldn’t pass it.” Because that statement makes no sense. You also can’t say, “I don’t want Kobe taking that shot because everyone knows he’s going to take it.” Why are you constructing imaginary obstacles, man? It’s just a stupid basketball hypothetical!
What about this question: if Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Melo, and Chris Paul are all on the floor at the same time (suspend your disbelief re: positionality), who takes the last shot? Isn’t that what the question is really asking? I mean, when someone asks who you want taking the last shot, does anyone ever respond “On what team?”
In this dream scenario, you’d have to assume that the defense would be spread pretty evenly between each player, and in that case you’d want a great one-on-one scorer from anywhere on the floor who can make extremely difficult shots. In that case, I wouldn’t feel at all weird about going with Kobe there. But in any case, my choice would be pretty much entirely dependent on who else was on the floor. I mean, if I knew everyone on my team was going to converge on Kobe, I might want Lamar Odom or Shannon Brown taking that shot. But I’m not some weirdo who imagines fantasy scenarios in which the opposing defense has tendencies against my dream-players.
The point is, as much as I love when Internet people freak out on Kobe’s behalf, there just isn’t enough evidence to declare who is good or bad at taking a shot with a certain amount of time left on the clock. Kobe’s bad at doing it in this warped system he’s developed where he’s the only person on the Lakers allowed to take the shot, but that doesn’t mean he’s bad at taking such shots overall. There’s probably even an argument to be made for Kobe being the most clutchsome because he performs about as well as an average player even though everyone in the entire world knows he’s taking the shot.
In conclusion, clutchousness probably doesn’t exist and I’d be cool with never talking about it again.