In a storied career highlighted by three NBA championships, an MVP award and a plethora of scoring titles, All-Star berths and All-NBA teams, Kobe Bryant had accomplished more than most athletes could dream of before Game 1 of the 2009 Finals tipped off Thursday at STAPLES Center.
But with a masterful performance emphasized by a stat sheet that read 40 points, eight assists and eight rebounds on the league’s highest platform, Bryant took another step up the ladder of the game’s all-time greats.
“Kobe’s energy in the game carried (the win),” said Phil Jackson, who said he wasn’t at all surprised with Bryant’s dominance. “He plays big in big games.”
“When he gets it going, he’s one of the best players of all time,” added Lamar Odom. “There isn’t anything that he can’t do. We understand how bad he wants to win this championship, and we all want it.”
The feat was all the more impressive after a sluggish first quarter netted just six points and two assists on 3-of-9 shooting, but he went on a 30-point, six-assist, five-rebound rampage in the second and third quarters to put L.A. up by 22 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I just want it so bad, that’s all,” said Bryant. “You just put everything you can into the game, and your emotions fly out of you.”
At the same time, Bryant was very careful to emphasize that L.A. “hadn’t won nothing yet,” his eyes firmly locked on Sunday’s Game 2.
But after one quarter that found the Magic up 24-22, it wasn’t even close. Orlando had gotten to the Finals in part by playing stingy defense that conceded 43.3 percent from the field (3rd in the NBA) in the regular season … Yet they had anything but an answer for L.A.’s combination of skill and length as the Lakers got almost whatever they wanted on offense, producing a mammoth 56-22 edge in points in the paint.
“There was nothing I liked (about the performance),” said Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy. “Clearly after the first quarter, we were totally dominated at both ends of the floor and on the boards.”
Offensively, Orlando struggled to get anything resembling the easy looks it got in the Eastern Conference Finals against the less-lengthy Cavaliers, turning in a 29.9 shooting percentage punctuated by a combined 5-of-27 (18.5 percent) from Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.
“Defensively I thought they were great today,” lamented Van Gundy. “We’re going to have to find a way to get the ball inside more efficiently and play out of that more efficiently.
To Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol much of the defensive credit should go, as their collective job on Howard not only limited the big center to 12 points (only two from the field) but allowed the Lakers’ perimeter players to stay with Orlando’s three-point gunners, who were able to hit just 8-of-23 shots. L.A.’s two seven footers also received ample help from Lamar Odom, who contributed a 14-rebound, 11-point double-double off the bench.
“I feel a lot better,” said Odom, who’d been hobbled late in the Houston and early in the Denver series with a bruised back. “I’m a lot more active. You know I want it, I’m just pushing myself, and it’s never enough.”
Odom, Bynum and Gasol helped L.A. boast a 55-41 edge on the glass, pushed in part by Orlando’s poor shooting, which was key because Orlando turned the ball over just eight times. Yet for the Lakers, the 25-point margin really meant nothing, particularly as the losing team is often the one that has the benefit of making adjustments heading into Game 2.
“I think the best thing we can do is just forget about it,” said Kobe Bryant. “This is a resilient Orlando Magic team and this is nothing to them.”
“There are two days between games, so it’s a chance for (Orlando) to regroup,” concluded Jackson. “I told these guys it doesn’t matter whether we win by 60 or 6, it’s just one win, we have to go out and perform on Sunday.”
Until then, some numbers:
Three pointers hit by the Lakers in a 25-point win
Lakers players that had at least eight rebounds, led by 14 from Lamar Odom in 32 minutes. Pau Gasol (8), Kobe Bryant (8) and Andrew Bynum (9) filled out the boarding foursome.
Game 1′s in Finals history with larger scoring margins than Thursday’s 25-pointer, the biggest since Chicago’s 33-point victory over Portland in 1992 (courtesy of ESPN stats).
Points scored off the bench by Mickael Pietrus, 11 of which were in the second half, to lead the Magic.
Straight series victories for L.A. when winning Game 1.
Minutes played by surprise-entry Jameer Nelson off the bench, in which he produced six points with four assists and two rebounds on 3-of-9 shooting. Nelson finished -19 on the game, while starting point guard Rafer Alston was just -6 despite struggling from the field (2-of-9).
Second half points for the Magic, compared to 47 for the Lakers.
Shots taken by Bryant, more than what he took in Games 5 and 6 combined against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. He seemed to figure out how Orlando was playing him after the first quarter, and took particular advantage of the pick and roll, which Stan Van Gundy lamented after the game. As for Kobe: “They were giving me a jumper,” he said.
Shooting percentage for an efficient Lakers attack, helped by the on-target Luke Walton (4-of-5, nine points) and Derek Fisher (4-of-6, nine points).
Rebounds that reserve forward Josh Powell would have finished with were he to play all 48 minutes, as he grabbed four in only three minutes of play.