I was planning on writing about how Jozy Altidore must elevate his goal scoring to for the United States to take the next step in its climb up the international ranks until I read Scoop Jackson's latest piece on ESPN.com. To sum it up Jackson believes that if Kobe Bryant fails to lead the Lakers to an NBA Finals victory over the Celtics that somehow will taint our view of his career.
He also goes on to say that even though Bryant exploded for 38 points last night, including an incredible 19 in the third quarter that he failed his team.
Only an idiot would think that Kobe's reputation as one of the truly great players in the history of the game would be destroyed because of one series against a team with three definite Hall of Famers and a top-3 point guard in the game right now.
The only response that can accurately explain how I feel comes from Billy Madison.
The most ridiculous part of this story is that it didn't come after a game in which the rest of his supporting cast went off while Kobe struggled. Bryant's Game 5 performance was an example of Kobe elevating his game and single-handedly trying to steal a game on the road while the rest of his team played like absolute dog shit.
His inability, so far, to single-handedly be who we know he can be and do what we know he's capable of doing is making Tom Thibodeau look like the Buddy Ryan of basketball. It's making the Allens (Ray and Tony) look like Darren and Darrelle (Sharper and Revis). It's making the Celtics look like they need to put out a "Kobe Rules" book written by Dan Shaughnessy.
Yeah Kobe definitely did not look like who I thought he could be yesterday. That performance was a travesty. He was also terrible in Game 4 when he scored 33 points on 22 shots. The Celtics are totally keeping him under wraps.
Even if Kobe was having a bad series, which he's not, this is a perfect example of why it's stupid to examine a players careers in the lens of one playoff series. Would one bad playoff series erase his contributions to four championship winning teams? No, especially when you examine the circumstances around this series.
Kobe hit it on the head yesterday when he said they played terrible defensively which is what cost them. The Celtics kept things interesting by committing numerous turnovers throughout the course of the game, but ultimately the Lakers' inability to find a way to slow down Pierce and control the defensive glass proved to be too much to overcome. Notice that none of that pertains to Bryant who's been working his ass off defensively all series long.
On Sunday night, Kobe erupted. Had what everyone thought was the game that would finally shape the series in the Lakers' favor. Instead, the 38 points he scored didn't amount to anything but an attractive (and misleading) stat line. Basically, what he did in that 92-86 loss -- as crazy as this sounds -- wasn't enough. Wasn't even close.
I'm not quite sure how that's his fault. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Hakeem, Shaq or any great player who's ever led a team to a championship has had the benefit of a supporting cast that provided valuable contributions along the way. Kobe's had that around him four times, but since Game 3 the only support he's received has been from Pau Gasol.
Basketball is a five-on-five game, which means that one great player can control a game at times by himself, but he still needs the other four guys on the court to contribute in their own way. Ron Artest was acquired for defensive prowess and toughness, last night Pierce absolutely had his way with him. Fisher is expected to hit open jumpers and if you thought his ridiculous Game 3 performance was anything but an aberration you're living in dream land. If Lamar Odom is a versatile big man that adds another dimension to the Lakers' frontcourt off the bench. None of these guys did what they were supposed to in Game 5.
Flip to the other side where the Celtics stole game 2 in Los Angeles by overcoming poor performances from Pierce and Garnett because of great performances from Allen and Rondo, but more importantly from their bench. The formula has been the same in Games 4 and 5 as Allen has struggled, but the Celtics' ability to get contributions from players throughout their lineup has led them to victory.
It's a team game and even when Kobe's doing his best Jordan imitation, if he's not getting help from somewhere else he's got no chances against a Boston team firing on all cylinders.
If the Lakers do lose this series, it's not because Kobe played terribly. It certainly won't taint his reputation as the 2nd greatest shooting guard in the history of the game. The fact of the matter is in three out of the five games Kobe has played extremely well and if Artest, Odom, Fisher and the Lakers' bench could provide him some support this series could easily be heading back to the west coast in favor of L.A.
No matter how great you play, if your teammates can't make a shot or defend properly, it's likely you're going to end up on the losing end.