As the resident Kobe fan of Chasing 23, nothing irks me more than the claim that Kobe has “quit’ on his team several times during his career. No other argument seems more contrary to who Kobe fundamentally is. This line of Kobe bashing came into play once again during the 2011 Finals as folks began to compare Lebron’s performance to the games that Kobe supposedly “quit”.
Exhibit A for this argument against Kobe has traditionally been the 2006 Game 7 Western Conference 1st round match-up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Popular opinion states the following:
- After taking 13 shots in the 1st half of the game, Kobe checked out and only took 3 shots in the 2nd half (scoring 1 point on an illegal defense free throw)
- Kobe was upset with Charles Barkley who had accused him of taking too many shots in the latter part of the series, so was trying to prove a point that this Laker team had no shot of winning if Kobe didn’t try and take over
- Kobe played passively and essentially threw in the towel during the 3rd quarter of the game
This line of reasoning was even recently recited during a discussion between Chasing 23 readers Lochpster and Boyer. My own recollection of the game is that Kobe gave an unbelievable effort in the 1st half, and even with this performance, the Lakers still were getting trounced. In the 2nd half, he kept finding open teammates who were completely unable to find the mark (perhaps the worst offender was his alleged “no. 2” Lamar Odom, who seemed to disappear for long stretches at a time).
So I decided to settle this argument the only way we know how to here at Chasing 23: go through the tape (see parts: 1/2/3/4) of the 2nd half and remove the bias that is introduced by our own desire to create a story around athletes we follow. Mind you, this was extremely painful for this Laker fan to relive. As I rewatched that night 5 years ago, I remembered the hopeless feeling that set in during the middle of the 2nd quarter when I realized this Laker team was simply overmatched against the Suns. I also found myself screaming at Odom, Smush, and Kwame all over again – amazed by their incompetence and lack of desire, and wanting to send them personalized invitations that the game had already begun. Lastly, I was sickened by a defense that made Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw seem like all-world players.
With that said, here is a play-by-play breakdown of what happened in the 2nd half (until approximately the 5 minute mark of the 4th quarter, when the Lakers were down 28 and Kobe exited the game). An attempt was made to document those possessions where Kobe touched the ball, as well as the general result. All Laker possessions have been documented as well as all Phoenix Suns scores. Finally, highlighted in green are all plays that resulted in (1) a Laker score or (2) a good Laker offensive possession, i.e., ones that ended with a wide open shot or shot deep in the lane.
Background: In the 1st half of Game 7, Kobe singlehandedly kept the Lakers close (somewhat), scoring 23 of the Lakers’ 45 points. Bryant nailed four 3-pointers while shooting over 60% from the field. Still, the Lakers went into the locker room trailing the Suns by 15.
Phoenix Suns: 60, Los Angeles Lakers: 45
Beginning of 3rd quarter
11:15: Kobe touch pass; Parker takes it in lane; bricks an open shot in lane
11:03: Shawn Marion drains mid-range jumper.
Phoenix Suns: 62, Los Angeles Lakers: 45
10:37: Luke Walton drains a wide open 3; Kobe does not touch ball.
Phoenix Suns: 62, Los Angeles Lakers: 48
10:29: Raja Bell drains 3-pointer.
Phoenix Suns: 65, Los Angeles Lakers: 48
10:17: Kwame misses 3 footer in the lane and then misses tap-in; Kobe does not touch ball.
10:03: Kobe touch pass. Kwame drawn into ill-advised shooting foul by James Jones.
Phoenix Suns: 67, Los Angeles Lakers: 48
9:44: Kobe touch pass to Walton, Walton bricks layup, Turiaf scores putback.
Phoenix Suns: 67, Los Angeles Lakers: 50
9:21: Diaw blows by Smush Parker for dunk.
Phoenix Suns: 69, Los Angeles Lakers: 50
9:02: Set play for Odom; passes to Luke Walton who misses open shot from the free throw line; Kobe does not touch ball.
8:52: Goaltending by Turiaf; Raja Bell scores.
Phoenix Suns: 71, Los Angeles Lakers: 50
8:30: Kobe quick touch pass to Smush Parker; Smush misses wide open 3-pointer and then makes putback layup.
Phoenix Suns: 71, Los Angeles Lakers: 52
7:56: Shooting foul by Lamar Odom on Diaw, who makes both free throws.
Phoenix Suns: 73, Los Angeles Lakers: 52
7:46: Kobe misses 3-pointer (first shot of quarter).
7:07: Kobe passes into Walton who misses 2-footer.
6:35: Walton misses wide open 3-pointer; Kobe does not touch ball.
6:11: Kobe makes illegal defense free throw.
Phoenix Suns: 73, Los Angeles Lakers: 53
6:05: Smush Parker drains 3-pointer; Kobe does not touch ball.
Phoenix Suns: 73, Los Angeles Lakers: 56
5:40: James Jones drains a 3-pointer.
Phoenix Suns: 76, Los Angeles Lakers: 56
5:22: Smush Parker commits a lazy turnover; Kobe does not touch ball.
5:07: Shawn Marion dunks the ball.
Phoenix Suns: 78, Los Angeles Lakers: 56
4:31: Kobe double teamed and passes out; gets the ball back and misses 3-pointer.
4: 31: Shawn Marion fouled on loose ball; makes 2 free throws.
Phoenix Suns: 80, Los Angeles Lakers: 56
4:22: Odom fouled on drive; makes both. Kobe does not touch ball.
Phoenix Suns: 80, Los Angeles Lakers: 58
3:44: Kobe passes into Odom on set play; Odom to Kwame for dunk.
Phoenix Suns: 80, Los Angeles Lakers: 60
3:20: Leandro Barbosa makes mid-range jumper.
Phoenix Suns: 82, Los Angeles Lakers: 60
2:59: Set play for Odom; passes to wide open Devean George who misses 3-pointer; Kobe does not touch the ball,
2:50: Raja Bell drains 3. The rout is on.
Phoenix Suns: 85, Los Angeles Lakers: 60
2:27: Kobe pass out of double team. First sign of frustration in body language. Kwame Brown misses 4 footer in lane.
2:04: Kobe pass into set isolation post play for Odom. Misses driving layup under contention.
1:49: Quick 3-pointer by Vujacic. Odom putbacks the miss. Kobe does not touch the ball.
Phoenix Suns: 85, Los Angeles Lakers: 62
1:32: Driving uncontested layup by Barbosa.
Phoenix Suns: 87, Los Angeles Lakers: 62
1:13: Pick and roll play with Kobe, he’s doubled and passes to an open George in the corner who misses a 3. This is a play commonly made today by Lebron (for which he is credited).
0:47: Pick and roll between Kobe and Cook; Kobe makes a behind the back pass to Cook who bricks open 16 footer followed by a missed Devean George tip-in.
0:27: Diaw blows by George for a short jumper (and gets fouled on a continuation play).
Phoenix Suns: 90, Los Angeles Lakers: 62
0:13: Kobe and Cook pick and roll. Kobe makes fundamental play passing out of double to Cook who rotates to Vujacic who drains wide open 3.
Phoenix Suns: 90, Los Angeles Lakers: 65
End of 3rd
11:37: Kobe passes out of double team; Cook drains turnaround jumper.
Phoenix Suns: 90, Los Angeles Lakers: 67
11:03: Post play to Cook who misses short turnaround; Kobe does not touch ball.
10:42: Nash blows by Parker for wide open lay-up.
Phoenix Suns: 92, Los Angeles Lakers: 67
10:27: Cook takes ill-advised 28-foot 3 pointer as Kobe is calling for the ball in the post. Kobe does not touch the ball.
10:03 – Kobe attempts to run a play through Smush who fumbles the ball. Kobe is clearly frustrated about the lack of execution. Kobe gets offensive foul attempting to drive to basket.
9:53 – Kobe called on another very questionable offensive foul making a drive to the lane.
9:47 – Tim Thomas dunks the ball.
Phoenix Suns: 94, Los Angeles Lakers: 67
9:19 – Kobe attempts to split double team for 1st time in 2nd half, gets fouled. On subsequent inbound, set play results in layup for Odom.
Phoenix Suns: 94, Los Angeles Lakers: 69
8:56 – Tim Thomas blows by Cook for layup.
Phoenix Suns: 96, Los Angeles Lakers: 69
8:37 – Kobe is doubled and ball rotates over to Cook; pass to Walton who drills a wide open 17 footer.
Phoenix Suns: 96, Los Angeles Lakers: 71
7:54 – Kobe doubled off pick and roll and passes to Cook for wide open 3. Brick. Vujacic and Cook miss two layups on offensive rebounds and then Cook turns it over.
7:18 – Kobe passes to Odom with good position in post who scores a turnaround in the lane.
Phoenix Suns: 96, Los Angeles Lakers: 73
7:09: Leandro Barbosa drains 3 pointer.
Phoenix Suns: 99, Los Angeles Lakers: 73
6:42: Kobe/Turiaf pick and roll. Kobe doubled. Ball rotation results in wide open Luke Walton brick.
6:16 – Nash drains mid range jumper.
Phoenix Suns: 101, Los Angeles Lakers: 73
6:01 – Kobe/Turiaf run pick and roll. Kobe doubled. Ball rotation results in wide open Vujacic 17 footer that misses the mark.
5:41 – Boris Diaw makes wide open layup on assist from Nash.
Phoenix Suns: 103, Los Angeles Lakers: 73
5:20 – Kobe touch passes to set play between Odom and Walton. Walton makes short bank shot.
Phoenix Suns: 103, Los Angeles Lakers: 75
4:54 – Kobe makes an expert lob in deep to Turiaf who is fouled under the basket.
Kobe exits game for Smush Parker.
An analysis of the Lakers’ 34 second half possessions looks like this:
|Another Laker makes shot||Another Laker misses open shot||Missed Kobe shot or Kobe offensive foul||Bad Possession by another Laker|
|Kobe touched the ball||9||9||4||2|
|Kobe didn’t touch the ball||3||4||0||3|
In the 2nd half, of the 24 possessions where Kobe touched the ball, over 90% of them resulted in either a made shot, an open missed shot, or a Kobe shot/offensive foul. In other words, in those possessions, Kobe overwhelmingly helped lead the offense to a good outcome or shot the ball himself.
In the circumstances where Kobe did not touch the ball, the Lakers wound up with a good outcome (make or wide open shot), 70% of the time. Of the 3 plays that were bad Laker possessions here, during one play, Kobe demanded the ball from Cook who ignored him and took a long 3, another play was a set post-up for Cook that resulted in a contested turnaround, and the last play was a careless turnover just over midcourt by Smush Parker.
Overall, of the 34 possessions documented above, 85% of them resulted in either a make, a missed wide open shot, or a Kobe shot/foul. The remaining 5 plays were generally poor decisions made by other players early in shot clock or were set plays called by Laker coaching.
Looking at the data above, it is difficult to see any way to come to the conclusion that Kobe quit during Game 7 of the 2006 playoffs opening round vs. the Suns. Kobe ran the offense at a rate where 85% of the time his teammates either made the shot, missed a wide open shot, or the possession belonged the Kobe. He showed high engagement throughout the 2nd half, bringing up the ball 10 times during the last 10 possessions documented here, resulting in 8 makes/missed wide open shots and 2 offensive fouls. While Kobe can certainly be blamed for being ineffective (2 missed 3 pointers and 2 questionable offensive fouls), his play put his team in a good position to execute the offense time and time again.
In fact, the Lakers’ lackluster performance in Game 7 can be directly attributed to 2 causes: (1) the complete disappearance of the supporting cast and (2) as referenced earlier, lackluster defense against the Suns bench, specifically Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa.
With respect to the supporting cast, the Lakers team outside of Kobe (who shot 50% from the field), shot a measly 32%. Keep in mind, that this percentage was based on shots that were, in large part, either wide open or several feet away from the basket if contested. Besides Kobe and Walton, the remaining Lakers shot an atrocious 1-16 from the 3 point line. No Laker in the front court had more than 5 rebounds against a team whose center was Boris Diaw. Only one Laker player had more than 2 assists.
In the meantime, the Laker defense on the other end of the court was equally horrendous. The Phoenix bench made a mockery of the Lakers starters. Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, two players who were mediocre earlier on in the series, combined for 47 points and even Tim Thomas chipped in with 12. A review of the 2nd half play by play reveals an array of wide open 3 pointers, layups, and dunks that thoroughly demoralized the Laker team.
Qualitatively, there is only 1 overt circumstance where an argument can be made for Kobe’s frustration causing him to not fully play out the possession. At 2:27 left in the 3rd quarter with the Lakers down 25, Kobe appears to pass the ball quickly and back out of the play, seemingly at a loss over what to do (even this play however, resulted in an easy 4 footer that Kwame Brown missed).
Mike D’Antoni, realizing that the Lakers’ only hope at some point would be if Kobe got into the “zone”, employed a strategy commonly used by many teams attempting to take Kobe out of the offensive scheme: jumping out on the high pick and roll and double teaming him above the key away from the basket. In this circumstance, the Laker counter strategy has typically been to ball rotate twice to the open man (the modern day version of this is typically Kobe passing to Gasol/Odom in the high post from where they find the open shooter). Starting toward the latter portion of the 3rd quarter, Kobe saw a double team nearly every time he touched the ball for the remainder of the game. Kobe’s teammates however were completely unable to take advantage of their opportunities, putting the Lakers (and Kobe) in an unwinnable situation.
Finally, there are those who will argue that it was imperative on Kobe that he not leave his team’s fate up to his ineffective teammates. Kobe realized that this strategy had already been tried in the 1st half with an extremely negative result (the Lakers down by 15). Kobe knew the only way the Lakers would be able to rally against the Suns was via ball movement and getting at least 1 or 2 other players that could contribute to the offense. As Kobe himself stated later,”"To get back in the game, we needed somebody else to start making shots. I was just trying to get the other guys going, turn the momentum around.”
Unfortunately, for both Kobe and the Lakers on that forgettable night 5 years ago, that strategy never materialized.