The 2010 NBA Finals are not over, but the endless comparisons between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant should forever cease. Last night, Kobe Bryant scored 38 points, including19 in the 3rd quarter. He dropped 23 points in a row for a team sporting elite scoring option Pau Gasol; all-world point-forward Lamar Odom; Deep Clutch Derek; and the Big Accidental (aka Andrew Bynum). While Bryant was making some of the most magical shots I’ve seen, his opponents were busy scorching the nets and locking down his teammates.
In the 3rd quarter, Bryant shot 7-9. His teammates shot 3-10. Guess what? Bryant wasn’t a ball hog. He didn’t jack up everything in sight. Did he take a high percentage of shots? Sure. Were the Lakers going to feed the hot hand? Of course. Boston did it in Game 2 for Ray Allen (and that may be the decisive game in this seres). So, what’s the problem?
The problem is that for all of his talent, Kobe Bryant is not only NOT Michael Jordan, he is NOT a guy who plays with Scottie Pippen. Could Jordan have single-handedly won last night’s game vs. Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo and company? Possibly. Could he have done it without Pippen? Highly unlikely. Michael Jordan made Scottie Pippen better than he would have been had he become the proto-Rashard Lewis envisioned by Seattle Sonics management when he was drafted. Post-migraine Pippen was as good a complementary player as has ever played in the NBA. And these Los Angeles Lakers simply don’t have a guy like that.
How big would it have been last night for Bryant to be able to hit a flashing Pippen on a cut to the hole? The drive, the contact, the hoop and the harm. Whistle on Garnett…3 point play. Next trip down, Bryant continues his Jordan impersonation and hits a twisting, leaning, inverted, fade-away three from 45 feet – swish. Celtics inbound — Pippen deals the ball, flushes it home.
The Chicago Bulls won games like this all the time. This Lakers team doesn’t struggle against most teams, but against grinding Eastern Conference powerhouses that are reminiscent of the old-school Knicks, Pacers, Pistons and Celtics (minus the game ejections and fights), these Lakers are missing that Glue Guy who moves the ball from superstar to wide open role player; the guy who snatches the rebound and leads the transition break; the guy who plays help defense and plays passing lanes all while playing chest-to-chest defense on the other team’s best offensive weapon; the guy who can deliver thunderous dunks of his own right over the top of the opposing center.
Ron Artest is not that guy. Lamar Odom, for whatever reason (certainly not physical), is not that guy. Luke Walton is not that guy (smile). As this series comes barreling to its Tinsel Town finale, one thing is certain, Kobe Bryant’s best is not good enough. Do you EVER remember a point guard jumping OVER Pippen AND Jordan in the 4th quarter of the NBA Finals? Didn’t think so.
Still, this is not an indictment of Kobe’s many talents. It does not make his less of a player than Michael Jordan. This is a measure that belies statistical comparison. It really comes down to execution. Usually, when the Lakers turn out an opponent’s lights for good, there is one bullet, one grisly trail of blood — and it leads right to Kobe’s “white Bronco.” When the Bulls beat you, there were almost always two red-hot smoking barrels…one held by Jordan, and the other by Pippen. It was always a gruesome way for playoffs hope to die. No one knows this better than Patrick Ewing, who was routinely posterized by both Pippen and Jordan.
Bryant can still earn his 5th NBA title, but I don’t like his chances this season. What’s more, for my money, he has dispelled the notion that he is not a comparable talent. Both were the greatest shot-makers and combination (offense-defense) players of their generation. Kobe Bryant needs help, but Scottie Pippen is not walking through that door. The best that the Lakers and Bryant can hope for is that the spirit of Scottie’s game is embraced by someone very soon.
If not, the team will lose. Doc Rivers will get to write a book entitled, The Zen of Whippin’ Phil’s Ass, and Paul Pierce will embarrass himself, all of Southern California and half of Boston by once again proclaiming himself the best basketball player in the world.