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by user Hoopsaddict.com
When Kobe Bryant scorched my beloved Raptors for 81 points earlier this season he quickly became a player I loved to hate. Between his problems off the court and his shoot first attitude it became easy to form a hatred for Bryant, however watching him play Sunday afternoon I started to change my opinion on the All-Star guard.
I tuned into the Suns-Lakers game Sunday afternoon because I was ready for the Suns to play an uptempo game and for Bryant to try and “get his” and score an obscene amount of points. Instead I saw the Lakers run their half court sets and Bryant show the patience to get his teammates involved. Bryant attempted 21 shots on the day but for the first three quarters he played the role of quarterback within the Lakers offense and made sure all of his teammates got a chance to touch the ball. The result was the Lakers creeping back from a double digit defect in the first half to tying the game in fourth quarter.
Heading into the series Bryant told reporters that, "obviously we want to be able to read their defense and figure out ways to attack it with Kwame and Lamar and how to utilize them and then me picking my spots and taking over the game."
When I read that quote this weekend I chuckled because I figured that there was no way that Bryant would defer to his teammates. Today Bryant proved me wrong and backed up this statement. The result of this was Bryant only scored 22 points but all five Lakers scored in double figures and Lamar Odom recorded a double dip of 21 points and a career high in the playoffs with 14 boards. In the past Bryant hasn’t trusted his teammates and has preferred to shoulder the scoring lead. During the course of the season Bryant did this on his way to capturing a scoring title but Bryant’s played enough playoff basketball games to realize that he needs his teammates to help him win games if the Lakers are going to win a Championship.
It’s this newfound maturity that has captured my attention. The fierce warrior who used to chuck up shots is now barking at his teammates to run the plays so that he can feed them the ball. The old Bryant would pout when teammates missed a shot but today he was there to collect the loose rebound off a Smush Parker miss and calmly put back the shot.
I don’t know if this maturity was a one game break or if it’s a sign of the genuine growth of Bryant as basketball player, but you can be sure that I’ll be watching Tuesday night to see who shows up -the new Kobe shows up of the gunslinger that we’ve all gotten used to seeing.
Sun 04/23/06, 6:47 pm EST