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June 5, 2010
Every Play Counts
Kobe vs. the Celtics

by Kevin Pelton

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In "Every Play Counts," Kevin Pelton focuses on one player, team or matchup in a single game, looking to explain how and why they succeed or fail. Naturally, one game isn't everything, but the results can be illuminating.

For most teams, Kobe Bryant scoring 30 points would hardly be cause for concern, seeing as the Los Angeles Lakers star averaged 27.0 points per game during the regular season and has pushed that average to the cusp of 30 a night (29.5, to be exact) during the Lakers' playoff run. The Boston Celtics are not most defenses, however, and a Celtics team that has prided itself on lockdown defense and has frustrated several of the league's best players en route to the NBA Finals wants to do better defensively on Bryant.

"We have to make an adjustment there, that's for sure," Doc Rivers told reporters during Friday's media availability.

Despite Bryant's solid overall efficiency in Game One, when he scored 30 points on 10-of-22 shooting, the numbers still suggest Boston can improve its defense on him with a few tweaks to its gameplan. I watched every Bryant shot attempt, assist and turnover via Synergy Sports, charting Bryant's primary defender on the play. The results back up the takeaway from watching Game One live, which was that Bryant did much of his damage against opposite number Ray Allen.

Defender    FGs   FTs   Ast   TO   Pts   Pos
--------------------------------------------
R. Allen    4-7   3-4    5     1    12    10
T. Allen    1-5   4-4    0     2     6     9
Pierce      1-5   2-2    0     1     4     7
Other       4-5   0-0    1     0     8     5
--------------------------------------------
Totals     10-22  9-10   6     4    30    31

Bryant was able to get eight of his points either in transition (a pair of dunks in transition in the third quarter) or in scramble situations. Ultimately, Bryant ended up using a relatively similar number of possessions against each of the Celtics' three defensive options--Ray Allen, defensive-minded reserve Tony Allen and the bigger Paul Pierce. Yet the results were very different, as he scored more points against Ray Allen than he did against both Tony Allen and Pierce combined. Against the latter two defenders, Bryant shot just 2-of-10 from the field, though he was able to get to the free throw line.

A telling statistic here is the assist column. Bryant's assists came almost exclusively early in the first quarter and late in the fourth, when he was matched up against Ray Allen. His only other assist came in transition (and was a case of very liberal scoring, even by NBA standards). This shows that Boston had to offer more defensive help to Ray Allen, yet still saw Bryant be more effective as a scorer in this matchup.

The biggest difference was that Tony Allen and Pierce were more effective at containing Bryant on the perimeter. Even when they were beaten, their size allowed them to recover. Tony Allen had a very nice play in the third quarter when he blocked Bryant's attempt in the paint from behind, helping the Celtics force a 24-second violation.

Rivers maintained Friday that he wants to put a variety of players on Bryant, even including Rajon Rondo and the injured Marquis Daniels in the discussion. It's clear, however, that Boston will want to minimize Ray Allen's time on Bryant. That should also help the Celtics on the other end, since Allen got in early foul trouble, taking his outside shooting off the court.

Boston doesn't want Pierce exclusively matching up with Bryant because of the energy it takes away from his own offensive efforts, but I think it makes sense to begin the game with Pierce defending Bryant to set a more positive tone. Tony Allen is probably good for about 15-20 minutes of the matchup off the bench, and if Pierce can give the Celtics another 15-20 minutes, that limits how much Ray Allen will need to contribute.

From the Lakers' perspective, there may be a counter-adjustment in terms of Bryant's play selection. Breaking down shooting by play type reveals that he had a good night despite being woefully inefficient in isolation situations.

Play Type      FGs
-------------------
Isolation      2-11
High P&R       4-4
Transition     2-3
Scramble       2-2
Side P&R       0-1
P&R Roll Man   0-1

Bryant missing all six shots he attempted out of isolations against Tony Allen and Pierce. He was slightly better when isolating against Ray Allen, going 2-of-5, but that was padded by a contested three he hit on the Lakers' final possession.

The Lakers had much more success when Bryant went to the high pick-and-roll, seeing him make all four shots. Kendrick Perkins was average at best stepping out to show against Bryant, including one play where he laid back in the paint while Ray Allen tried to fight through the screen, giving Bryant an easy pullup around the free throw line.

With two days off between Games One and Two, both coaching staffs will surely be pouring over the game film in order to make adjustments. If they saw the same things I saw, both will have changes to make when it comes to how Bryant is utilized and defended.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Playoff Prospectus (06/04)
<< Previous Column
Every Play Counts (05/21)
Next Column >>
Every Play Counts (11/03)
Next Article >>
John Wooden's Century (06/07)

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