Bryant feeds fans’ and team’s hunger
LOS ANGELES — Phil Jackson said the first game of a playoff series “kind of sets the table’’ after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 102-89 win over the Celtics last night. And Lakers fans were comfortable with that theme, saving some of their strongest encouragement for their team to reach triple figures, which guarantees ticket-holders free tacos at a fast-food chain.
So, with 3.6 seconds remaining, Kobe Bryant gave the fans tacos. Bryant had provided most of what his team needed, scoring 14 of his 30 points in the decisive third quarter. Bryant went nearly 10 minutes without a basket in the final quarter, but the Lakers did not need him to score, his only fourth-quarter field goal was the 3-pointer for taco time.
This game was decided after three quarters, with the Lakers setting the tone for the series, and taking an 84-64 advantage.
“That was surprising,’’ Bryant said of the offensive output. “That’s not something we’re hanging our hats on, scoring 100 points, we’re hanging our hats on defending and rebounding.’’
Bryant’s intent and his apparent hunger to win a second straight title could be difficult for the Celtics to overcome.
Bryant has had his game face on in recent days, which means he is keeping his mouth mostly shut, at least in public. And he continued his reluctance to be forthcoming after the game. One questioner described Bryant as “surly’’ during other playoff series, and Bryant gave a comparatively expansive response, concluding with “was that surly enough for you?’’
But Bryant has apparently been making himself heard during practice sessions and breaks in game action. Even though he didn’t practice much the day before Game 1, Bryant helped establish some standards for the team.
“Kobe didn’t really practice, but his chiming in from the sideline was ‘this is it, so let’s get focused and let’s get serious,’ ’’ Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw said. “That tells you when it comes to him, no other excuses. These last two weeks, it’s all about us here, us-against-the-world thing. I think it made them straighten up and kind of be a little more focused.’’
Bryant was also quite vocal with teammates during the game.
“I’ve been that way, just making sure we’re all on the same page and executing properly,’’ Bryant said. “We did a good job moving the ball, that’s really a big key for us. Ball movement, make sure our spacing’s good — [last] night it worked pretty good for us.’’
As for Bryant drawing fouls — he was 9 for 10 from the free throw line: “Just being aggressive, getting the bodies, and I got the benefit of the whistle.’’
For Sunday’s contest, Bryant said: “In terms of Game 2, I’m not sure, I haven’t thought about it much, so we’re looking at tomorrow and be ready for their adjustments in Game 2.’’
Bryant can be obtuse, even patronizing. But he doesn’t have to talk the talk to please his fans. Just walk the walk and shoot the shot.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.