The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon by sharing the ball and playing a team game. Sunday night’s win over the best team in basketball was no fluke because the Lakers improved on something that started on Friday night against Utah: Kobe Bryant became an unselfish basketball player.
For the last two games, the Lakers have played like an offensively balanced team, held their opponents to under 100 points, and they have won. After Sunday afternoon’s win, LA had reason to get giddy because they witnessed a “team-first” Kobe like no one has ever seen before.
Kobe has now come within one rebound of a triple double in each of the last two games. Friday’s 14 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds stat line was impressive when considering he shot 7-10 from the field, but the widely-held view was that the Mamba would regress into the same “shoot-first” player he has been for the past 16 and a half seasons. Also, Utah may be a good team in the standings, but they are not NBA elite.
Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are elite. They entered Staples Center with the top scorer in the NBA and the best record in the league. Nothing changed from Friday to Sunday for the Lakers.
“Kobe Johnson” is the name beginning to catch steam as No. 24 improved on his stat line from Friday night against the Jazz to finish with 21 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds. Also, he shot 8-12 from the field.
Bryant has not just changed his own game. He has finally allowed the Lakers to transform into the five-headed monster most fans imagined when this team was put together over the summer. For the past two games, the Lakers have finished with at least five players in double figures.
Injuries, lack of continuity, and coaching changes have played a role in the Lakers’ slow growth, but Bryant’s acceptance and implementation of a balanced team effort has accelerated the Lakers’ play from near-bottom to near-top instantly.
“We started playing more as a team,” Pau Gasol said. “I think Kobe facilitating, it’s key. There’s no way around it. When the leader of the team, the franchise player of your team, facilitates and is unselfish like that event though he can score, and take shots and make shots at any point of the game. But when he he sets the tone like that, it’s contagious.”
Kobe Bryant is unselfish.
That. Just. Happened.