Kobe was in total command in Game 1
Updated: Sunday May 20, 2001 8:28 AM
By Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated
SAN ANTONIO -- He strutted. He preened. He even flexed like a Venice Beach muscleman once as he walked off the court.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was in total command in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night. He put the Spurs' vaunted defense through a blender, racking up 45 points and 10 rebounds, en route to a 104-90 victory.
How dominating was Kid Kobe?
Afterward, Shaquille O'Neal called him "the best player in the league by far."
Bryant scored inside and outside. He dunked over Tim Duncan. He spun through Sean Elliott like a kid through a Disneyland turnstile. He stared Spurs guard Antonio Daniels in the eye and buried a 3-pointer.
"Kobe was magnificent," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "We added some wrinkles [for him] that were effective."
With O'Neal being watched closely by San Antonio 7-footers Tim Duncan and David Robinson, the Lakers spread the court in Game 1 and gave Bryant freedom to operate. He did so, like a surgeon. Bryant attacked San Antonio's slower perimeter defenders, especially Elliott and Danny Ferry, getting into the lane seemingly at will.
"Obviously, their defense is predicated on funneling guys toward Tim and Dave. You have to spread the court," Bryant said. "I'll go right at them. I can't let myself be intimidated, but we have to pick our spots."
While the Lakers normally stick to the triangle offense, Jackson gives them freedom to step out of it on occasion and let Bryant go to work. It worked in Game 4 of last year's NBA Finals, when O'Neal fouled out and Kobe took over en route to an overtime victory, and it worked again Saturday afternoon. The key is to have proven 3-point shooters, such as Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher, on the floor to keep the opposing defense honest.
"We were looking for a way to get [Kobe] in the post so that he wouldn't have to face two guys," Horry said. "Basically, we want to make whoever is covering our [power forward] stay out on his man. They didn't want to leave us open today, so Kobe was able to get some good looks."
The Spurs clearly need to change their strategy in Game 2. Daniels, who otherwise played a decent game (a career-high 20 points) cannot guard Bryant alone. He needs help from the other guys on the floor, even if it means leaving one of the other L.A. Guns open.
"Otherwise, he's going to score 43, 44 points every night," Fisher says.
During one fourth-quarter timeout, the Spurs sat like zombies, staring straight ahead as if trying to visualize some way to put Bryant in a straitjacket. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich tried to light a fire, even giving an impassioned pep talk to Daniels. Meanwhile, the song I Will Survive blared over the P.A. system.
The Spurs won't survive long in this series unless they find a way to deal with Bryant.