LOS ANGELES -- This is how good he is. Kobe Bryant doesn't need a full complement of help. Kobe Bryant doesn't even need a full 48 minutes. He's so good, he beat the Spurs on Thursday night with one half -- not to mention Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom -- tied behind his back.
And if you're a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, here's even better news:
|Lakers legend Jerry West can expect Kobe to bring another title to L.A. (Getty Images)|
Whoever emerges from the East -- punchless Detroit or spineless Boston -- isn't good enough to beat Los Angeles as long as the Lakers get this very reasonable recipe:
Kobe plus a little bit of help.
That's all it'll take for Los Angeles to win another NBA title: Kobe Bryant -- and a little bit of help. That's a good thing, because he's not going to get much more help than that. Only once in the Western Conference finals did Bryant's teammates allow him to be anything less than a one-man wrecking crew, and that was the Lakers' 30-point demolition of San Antonio in Game 2. Otherwise, the Lakers won with a whole lot of Kobe, a pinch of Pau, a little of Lamar and then whatever else coach Phil Jackson could scrape up from the rest of his roster.
In the Lakers' 100-92 clinching victory against the Spurs in Game 5 on Thursday night, Bryant scored 39 points in such a blatant one-man show that his coach, Jackson, simply refused to take him out of the game. Bryant played all 24 minutes of the second half, when he scored 26 points, and afterward Jackson felt bad. A little bit.
"I played him too many minutes," Jackson said. "I had to take a timeout ... just to give him a rest so he could come back there."
What else could Jackson do? Entrust the offense to Derek Fisher, a good man who never in this series found his shooting touch and never in his career has created shots for anyone else? Entrust the offense to Odom, whose enthusiastic drives into the lane remind of watching a toddler run into traffic? Let Gasol shoot more of his weenie shots?
No. This team will go only as far as Kobe can carry it, and in that regard there was only one other playoff team so strapped -- LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Kobe has more help than LeBron, because Gasol and Odom trump Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joe Smith, but the difference between the two supporting casts isn't all that great.
For whatever reason, everyone on both teams in the Western Conference finals wanted to ignore the obvious -- that Kobe was doing it mostly by himself. I understand, actually. The Spurs don't want to admit they were beaten by one guy, which is why Spurs coach Gregg Popovich repeatedly called Los Angeles "a better team."
Jackson said it was "a concerted effort," and he was telling the truth only if he was comparing the Lakers to a concert, with Kobe playing the horn and drums and saxophone while Gasol blew the oboe and Odom just kind of blew, period.
Even Bryant talked about the "brotherhood" of this Lakers team, which is consistent with how he has carried himself on and off the court. After his petulance from this past summer, he has gone out of his way to try to be just one of the guys this season, refusing to take games by the throat until it was completely obvious to everyone that the rest of the Lakers were choking. That's what happened in Game 1 when the Lakers rallied from a 20-point deficit to win, and that's what happened Thursday night when they climbed out of a 17-point hole.