Posted by Sekou Smith
BOSTON — Kobe Bryant has been saying it for weeks and yet no one seems to be listening.
When the Lakers have lost in this postseason, Bryant insists, it’s usually been a product of their suspect defense.
It happened against Oklahoma City twice and against Phoenix twice as well. And now they’ve dropped three to the Boston Celtics in these Finals, including Sunday night’s Game 5 at TD Garden, each one a struggle for the Lakers on the defensive end.
Sooner or later someone other than the Hang Time crew is going to take Bryant’s no-defense rants serious and realize that he’s right. The Lakers are four quarters away from being a painful fishing trip because they cannot stop the Celtics when it matters most.
There’s no better example than the third quarter of Game 5. Bryant went bonkers after halftime, scoring a staggering 17 points in just six minutes, 19 straight when before someone else found the bottom of the nets, and the Celtics’ actually increased their lead from 11 points to 13 points.
Bryant’s best offensive stretch of this entire series didn’t change the outcome of the game one bit because his team couldn’t get a stop with a crossing guard and a sign when they absolutely had to have one.
And you wonder why a scowling Bryant delivers one-word answers from the podium after every loss.
“They broke the game open in the third quarter,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “and it was a struggle for us to get ourselves back into that ballgame. We came back at the end of the third and narrowed the margin, but sequences of plays, turnovers, a couple turnovers by Kobe and run-outs created that 10-point gap at the end in which we had to really struggle to get back into the game.”
Bryant was magnificent in defeat, scoring a game-high 38 points on 50 percent (13-for-27) shooting from the floor.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Bryant did what only he can during that third quarter stretch. “He’s the best shot maker in the game,” Rivers said. “There’s probably better athletes and all that, but there’s no better shot maker than Kobe Bryant. I mean, in that stretch I kept turning to [assistant coaches Tom Thibodeau and Armond Hill) and saying, ‘those are tough shots.’ He was making tough shots. You’ve just got to live with it and play through it.”
It also helps when you are just as good, if not better, on offense than Bryant was. The Celtics got their 92 points Sunday night on 56 percent (40-for-71) shooting from the floor.
While Bryant was putting on his one-man shooting show the Celtics were busy pounding them on the other end of the floor. Over an eight-minute stretch the Celtics scored on 12 of 13 possessions, turning it over on the only one they didn’t score on. They had four second-chance opportunities and continued to outhustle and outmuscle the Lakers at the right time.
“Defensively, we weren’t very good at all,” Bryant said. “Last game it was the fourth quarter and this game it was the third quarter. We didn’t get any stops. They got layup after layup, and you can’t survive a team shoots 56 percent … we’re normally a great defensive team.”
Only when you win Kobe, only when you win.