The Sports Guy has stated multiple times that if the LA Lakers win the 2008-09 NBA championship, it will secure Kobe Bryant's place as the 3rd greatest guard in league history. It would be Bryant's 4th ring and first without Shaq, which in many experts' minds would vault #24 past Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, leaving only Magic and Michael ahead of him.
Up 2 games to 1 in the series and in Orlando for Game 4, the stage was set for Kobe to play like one of the greatest guards in NBA history. It was time to go for the jugular, as all the great ones do when they absolutely need to. And if we look at the Game 4 box score, Kobe performed well. 32 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds.
But if we look deeper, Kobe Bryant's stats were not overly impressive in Game 4. Even more importantly, there are two players(one on each team) that are more responsible for the game's outcome than the 3rd greatest guard of all time. Here's my proof.
In a superb piece on Shane Battier by Michael Lewis, some secrets to guarding Kobe Bryant are revealed. Battier is the Houston Rockets forward who arguably defends Bryant better than anyone else currently in the NBA. The Rockets and Battier are quick to acknowledge that Kobe is going to get his points every night. He's too talented and can score in too many ways.
The secret is this: if a team can keep Kobe's point total as close to his total field goal attempts as possible, that team has a fantastic chance to beat the Lakers. Such a shooting performance from Bryant is so inefficient that his team would be better off if he simply sat on the bench for the entire night.
Kobe in Game 4: 11-31 FG, 35.5%, 32 points
31 field goal attempts, 32 points. A very inefficient game. If those numbers are any indication, the Orlando Magic had a great chance to win Game 4. And indeed they did. In fact, they should have. The series should be knotted at 2 with Game 5 in Orlando. The Magic very well could be in position to win their first NBA title. But there are two glaring reasons why they lost and went down 3-1 in the series. Neither of the reasons are Kobe Bryant.
Reason #1: Dwight Howard With 11.1 seconds left in the game and Orlando up 3, Howard went to the line to ice it. The problem is, Howard's chances of making a free throw are slightly better than a coin flip. For you NBA laymen, this is not a good thing. Add the pressure of the situation to his poor FT percentage and it's easy to see why Howard bricked both free throws, keeping Game 4 within reach for the Lakers.
It may sound like I'm blaming Howard. I'm not. I will forever contend it's a miracle that chiseled 7-footers (such as Howard and Shaq) can make a free throw at all. If you have no sympathy for these Supermen and their free throw kryptonite, grab a tennis ball and see how many free throws you can drain. Some guys just aren't supposed to make consistent baskets from 15 feet away.
But the fact remains, reason #2 why the Lakers won Game 4 was given his chance because reason #1 couldn't make 1 out of 2 free throws. Okay, fine, maybe I'm blaming Howard. But only a little bit.
Reason #2: Derek Fisher This little fella has the 3rd most made 3-pointers in NBA Finals history, behind only Jordan and Robert Horry, who have a combined 13 rings. In other words, guys who drain 3s in the Finals snag rings. After Howard's aforementioned free throw struggles, Fisher took the ball and effing drained a cold-blooded triple in Jameer Nelson's grill. Or, what should have been his grill if he were actually defending against a 3.
The shot forced overtime, and Fisher splashed one more three from the top of the key to put the game away. You're welcome, 3rd best guard of all time.
2009 = 1991? Time to talk about Michael for a spell. There are a couple of notable similarities between Kobe's 2009 NBA Finals and MJ's 1991 Finals. Both men needed to prove they could win a title(Jordan in general and Kobe without Shaq). Both men's teams were up 2 games to 1 with an all-important game 4 on the road. Very, very similar situations. Very, very different numbers.
As I mentioned, Kobe was 11-31(35%) for 32 points, had 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 turnovers in Game 4 against the Magic. Jordan was 11-20(55%) for 28 points, had 13 assists, 5 rebounds, and 1 turnover in Game 4 against the Lakers in 1991.
So what's my point?
The Lakers will win the 2009 NBA title. Kobe will get his 4th ring and entrench himself as the 3rd greatest guard of all time. Combine this with idiot fans and short attention spans, and we'll start hearing the questions: Is Kobe the greatest Laker of all time? Is Kobe the best guard in NBA history? Both answers are still no, folks.
The Bulls won Game 4 in 1991, and eventually the title, because of Michael Jordan. The Lakers won Game 4 of the Finals in 2009 because of Dwight Howard and Derek Fisher. Nobody will remember these details years from now. We'll only remember Kobe got a ring without Shaq. But before you enter into the dangerous "greatest ever" conversation, remember that the third greatest guard in NBA history spent the most crucial game of the entire season missing two-thirds of his shots, and was bailed out by an unfortunate big man and a late-game assassin.