Unusually Bad Kobe Poised to Rebound in Boston

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, June 6, 2010, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

This story was written by CBSSports.com National Columnist Gregg Doyel



Kobe Bryant's going to have nights like this. That's just the way it is. Even gods trip over the curb sometimes. If they're lucky, nobody saw it.

Kobe Bryant wasn't lucky on Sunday night.

The Lakers lost 103-94 to the Celtics. This was Game 2 of the NBA Finals, so everybody saw it. Everybody saw him have an uncharacteristically bad game on offense, going 8 for 20 overall from the floor, missing five of his seven 3-pointers, turning it over five times. That's bad. And on defense, he was worse.

You know how Boston's Ray Allen detonated in historic fashion, hitting his first seven 3-pointers and scoring 27 of his 32 points in the first half? Well, Allen had to go off on somebody. Turns out, Kobe was that somebody. Kobe was the guy with gunpowder on his face.

Lakers Get Stapled by Celtics' Rondo and Allen

So it was a bad game for Bryant. And afterward, he was miserable. He put on a surly show in his postgame press conference, and I'm not attacking him for it. This is not me saying, "Boo-hoo, Kobe was mean to the media and now I'm going to spank him for it."

No. This is me saying, "I get it." Kobe had a bad game, and he was angry. So afterward, his press conference was uncomfortable. He answered questions in short, clipped bursts of sound. He didn't want to be there, discussing his subpar performance. The game had been nationally televised. Isn't that enough? His wife, meanwhile, was in the media room staring at various reporters. No idea what Vanessa Bryant was doing in there, but she was staring holes at us as we were writing about her husband. Meanwhile, her husband was failing badly at acting unaffected.

"It's a series," he said. "You're trying to stay even keel. You don't get too high, don't get too low. You just go into the next one and take care of business."

The next one should be interesting. Game 3 is Tuesday at Boston, and I'd put the over/under on Bryant's scoring at 40 points. Seriously. I expect him to go off in Game 3, because Game 2 was bad. It was worse than I've already suggested, really, because although he scored 21 points, Kobe got Kobe'd. Normally, Bryant is the one lighting up the scoreboard like Allen had done -- hitting all those 3-pointers and scoring all those points. And when Kobe does that, it does something debilitating to the guy trying to stop him.

This time, the debilitation was Bryant's. See, this wasn't just Ray Allen going off. This was Ray Allen going off in the NBA Finals in a way that only Michael Jordan had done it previously. Jordan hit those six 3-pointers in the 1992 Finals against Portland, scoring 35 points in the first half alone and punctuating the sixth 3-pointer by shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. And Kobe has always measured himself against Michael. But here was Ray Allen having a Michael moment not just at the Staples Center -- but at Bryant's expense.

Allen's Michael moment came after his sixth 3-pointer, pausing for effect before jogging down the court with a pleased smile on his face. That's what the camera saw. What I saw was Kobe Bryant's reaction. He was the guy guarding Allen on that 3-pointer -- he was, as I said, the guy guarding Allen on most of the 3-pointers -- and when Allen hit No. 6 in his face, Kobe's shoulders sagged. Had it been anybody else, I'd have told you that this was the moment, right there, where Kobe Bryant was broken.

Especially when you consider what happened next. In case you forgot, this is what I mean: The next time Allen had the ball, 30 feet from the basket and not even thinking about shooting, Bryant got into his personal space and stayed there, chest-bumping and swiping at the ball. He looked frustrated, even angry, and the referee called a foul. Allen hit two free throws. Moments later Bryant went one-on-one with Allen, bulling him down, making the basket, pumping his fist and thinking about finishing off the 3-point play. Only, the referees didn't cooperate. They called an offensive foul on Bryant, his third, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson took him out with 3:20 left in the half.

Kobe Bryant, broken? It looked that way. But the thing is, Bryant doesn't get broken. He's too good, and his mind is too strong. He's a killer, and even if he was more prey than predator on this night, he wasn't broken. So when the Lakers had the ball with 23.6 seconds left in the half, trailing 54-45, Jackson put Bryant back onto the floor.

And Bryant produced some magic. The Lakers missed a shot, but Bryant stole the Celtics' outlet pass at halfcourt, dribbled twice and pulled up from 26 feet. That basket made it 54-48, and then he almost did it again. He stole the Celtics' inbounds pass again, but with two-tenths of a second left he didn't have time to land and shoot. So he tried to turn the steal into an alley oop, shoving the ball 20 feet toward the rim while still in the air. No basket, and it wouldn't have counted anyway. But the crowd was roaring, and the Lakers were back in business.

Early into the third quarter the Lakers had rallied all the way back from a 14-point deficit, taking a 57-56 lead. Since trailing 47-33, the Lakers had gone on a 24-9 run. Bryant had scored 11 of those points, meaning that in a stretch of seven minutes, he had outscored the Celtics by himself.

But that was as good as it got for Bryant. He continued to pick up fouls, including another charging call early in the fourth quarter for his fifth foul. Bryant played on, but he was guarding Boston's Rajon Rondo, and Rondo made him look silly. One whistle away from fouling out, Bryant couldn't afford to draw another foul, so he let Rondo attack the rim and chase down loose balls and essentially dominate the final six minutes.

And when the Lakers needed Bryant to produce a last bit of magic in the final minutes, he came up empty. He scored eight points in the final six minutes, but that's misleading. He made three shots, but he missed four others. He also had a turnover. Most of those miscues came after the Lakers had taken a 90-87 lead on a Bryant jumper with 5:25 left. By the time the Lakers scored again -- a 3-pointer by Bryant -- the Celtics had scored 11 points in a row.

The game was over.

A bad game for Bryant. Unusually bad.

Makes me wonder how good he'll be in Game 3. Unusually good? That would be my guess, yes.

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