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Game 1: Kobe scores 40, Dwight is quiet, Lakers appear invincible

By 06.05.09
One down, three to go

One down, three to go

In our NBA Finals preview/picks from yesterday, Dime’s Austin Burton wrote: Kobe doesn’t have to drop 40 points a night and re-baptize Dwight Howard to bring home his fourth Larry O’Brien trophy and his first Finals MVP. He doesn’t have to outshine anything Jordan, Magic or Bird did in their championship years to drop the ‘He never won without Shaq‘ label. All he has to do is win. Whether he does it scoring 21 with seven dimes or getting 30 points on 30 shots, whether it takes four games or seven, he just has to win.” Or, as we learned last night, Kobe could drop 40 points and do the facilitating thing, which he did as the Lakers dominated in a Game 1 blowout … It’s not like Mickael Pietrus or Courtney Lee played sorry defense; they made Kobe (16-34 FG, 8 rebs, 2 stls) work for everything — he was just hitting everything. It was one of those classic “Nothing you can do” performances. After a close first quarter, Kobe was at his best in the second and the third; his bucket late in the third where he gave Pietrus a series of shakes and spins before getting an and-one banker in the lane put L.A. up by 22 and effectively ended it. That shot also inspired Kobe’s new bottom-teeth-out “I’m DETERMINED” face, which falls right behind Dirk‘s tongue-out bad Jordan impersonation as the ugliest Superstar Big Moment Face in the NBA … Given the way Dwight had gotten stronger throughout the postseason and Andrew Bynum had been slowly morphing into Benoit Benjamin, a lot of us in the Dime office agreed with reader “M Intellect” who handicapped the Howard/Bynum matchup as, “Bynum sandwich, extra mustard.” So it was surprising when Bynum initially outplayed Dwight. The Lakers’ game plan was to get AB involved (and get Dwight in foul trouble) right away, and he responded with some quick buckets and was subsequently more active on the boards and on defense. Eventually Bynum landed in foul trouble in the first half and didn’t finish with a great stat line (9 pts, 9 rebs), but he at least performed up to expectations, and didn’t let Dwight (12 pts, 15 rebs) kill the Lakers … Please don’t let the “Dwight only took six shots” angle become a big story going into Game 2. Yeah, the box score has Dwight at 1-for-6 from the field, but keep in mind he was also 10-for-16 at the line. That means eight other times he went up for a shot and got hacked. Add it up, and 14 shot attempts isn’t that bad of a game for Dwight … Taking Kobe out of the equation, the mismatches you expected to see were exposed early on: Pau Gasol (16 pts, 8 rebs) over Rashard Lewis in the paint, Rashard past Gasol on the perimeter, and Rafer Alston around and through Derek Fisher anywhere. If Rafer could’ve hit more of his little one-hand runners (2-9 FG), maybe Stan Van Gundy would’ve tried to exploit that Fisher matchup more often. Then again, Stan seems to have his mind made up that Jameer Nelson (6 pts, 4 asts, 23 mins) is gonna take a lot of Skip’s playing time. Jameer looked sharp. He made some nice passes and didn’t appear out of shape … And you thought ABC was done playing Tom Petty‘s “Running Down a Dream” at every commercial break … As much as people talk about Kobe’s bad body language, Dwight isn’t much better when things aren’t going well. One time in the first quarter he was chastising Tony Battie for something, then rolled his eyes when Battie didn’t comprehend … How cool of a night was it for Jeffrey Osborne? First he got to sing the national anthem, then he got to wear an Orlando uniform (#8) and sit on the bench the entire game. (Seriously, why does Jeffrey Osborne look younger than Anthony Johnson?) … So what needs to happen for Orlando to make this a series? Dwight put it best in the post-game: Kobe made 16 shots, while the Magic as a team made 23. In other words, Rashard (2-10 FG) and Hedo (3-11) need to get on track. Also, somebody else besides Dwight needs to rebound; Marcin Gortat could be that guy, but that only happens if Van Gundy plays him and Dwight together some time. We’ll see on Sunday … We’re out like AJ’s playing time …


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