Kobe Bryant made a gelding of Phil Jackson on national television, and I want to know what Jackson is going to do about it.
I assume Jackson will do something before tonight's Game 5 of the top-seeded Lakers' surprisingly tight series with the eighth-seeded Thunder, and I hope it's something more serious -- more worthy of Jackson' well-known genius -- than giving Kobe a book to read. Even if the book is Time-Out for Toddlers, which advises parents when their kids act as petulantly as itty bitty Kobe acted on Saturday in Game 4.
|Kobe Bryant tied his own hands in Game 4, going 15 minutes without a single shot. (Getty Images)|
His offense? Sacrificing the game. Did you read that correctly? You're damn right you did -- he sacrificed it.
Bryant is the best player on the Lakers, the leading scorer by a large margin, yet he spent the first 15 minutes refusing to shoot the ball. I don't mean he shot infrequently. I mean, he didn't shoot at all. The first quarter came and went without a single shot -- not a field goal, not a free throw -- from Kobe Bryant.
One minute came and went in the second quarter as well. No shots from Kobe. The second minute came and went. Most of the third minute, too. By the time Kobe hoisted a shot, a 3-pointer with 9:07 left in the half, the Lakers trailed 36-21. He made the shot. Now it was 36-24 -- and that was about as close as the Lakers would get. By the fourth quarter the Thunder led by 29, and the game ended in a 110-89 rout for Oklahoma City.
That tied the series at two games apiece.
And Kobe let it happen. Part of me thinks he wanted it to happen. That's why he placed Game 4 on the fire that stokes his ego, and he watched it go up in smoke. Game 4 was a goat to be sacrificed for the greater good, the greater good being Kobe Bryant.
When the best player on the team, maybe the best player on the court and possibly -- according to some people, but not me -- the best player in the world waits for his team to fall behind by 15 points without taking a shot ... that's intentional. One theory out of Los Angeles is that Bryant isn't a bad teammate, but a heroic one, playing with a broken finger (since December) and a sore knee. According to that ridiculous line of thinking, Bryant is giving it all just to be on the court.
Game 5, Tuesday: 10:30 p.m. ET
Game 4: Thunder 110, Lakers 89
Series matchup: Lakers 2, Thunder 2
That line of thinking ignores the timeline here. One game earlier, on the same court against the same opponent, Kobe had taken a whopping 29 shots, including 10 in the fourth quarter, which he spent trying to beat the Thunder one-on-five. And he failed. Kobe hit just two of those shots, and the Thunder rallied from behind to win 101-96.
Teammate Ron Artest told the media afterward, "As a unit, we've got to respect every possession -- we have to respect the game." Artest didn't identify which member of the Lakers hadn't respected the game, but my guess would be the Laker who had tried to beat the Thunder all by himself.
Jackson, the genius coach, called two or three of Bryant's attempts "hero shots," meaning they were shot more with ego than common sense.
Bryant's response? His response was Game 4. No shots, hero or otherwise, for 15 minutes. Kobe respected the game by passing the ball to his teammates, over and over, as if to say, "You think you guys can beat the Thunder? Fine. Here's the ball. Beat 'em."
Kobe knew what would happen. His teammates aren't good enough to beat the Thunder without his help. Lamar Odom is too spacey, Pau Gasol too wimpy, Andrew Bynum too unassertive, Derek Fisher too ... Derek Fisher. Beat the Thunder? Those guys? That was never going to happen, and Kobe knew it.
And still he went 15 minutes without taking a shot. The deficit was 24-14 with 1:43 left in the quarter, 29-17 at the end of the quarter, then 36-21. Kobe didn't care. He wasn't interested in the score. He was more interested in getting back at anyone who would question him.
After being so publicly gelded during the game, Jackson basically lifted his skirt afterward and showed off the result. He didn't rip Kobe -- he defended him. Kobe was not, Jackson explained, being petulant or selfish. Not at all. He was managing the game, Jackson said. And Kobe said the same thing himself.
"I was managing the game exactly how I wanted to," he told reporters.
Managing the game? That's one way of looking at it. Here's another way to look at it: Kobe sacrificed a game -- not just any game, but a playoff game -- because he wanted to punish his coach.
And I want to know what Phil Jackson is going to do about it.