LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Often criticized by Los Angeles Lakers fans for being a ‘ball hog’, Kobe Bryant played the role of facilitator to perfection on Wednesday as the NBA champions leveled their playoff series with New Orleans.
Bryant ended the night with a meager 11 points on three-for-10 shooting from the field, spending much of his time creating and also defending dangerous Hornets guard Chris Paul, who ran the Lakers ragged in Game One on Sunday.
Three days after losing the series opener 109-100 on their home court, Los Angeles bounced back to win Game Two 87-78 largely because of a superb defensive effort sparked by Bryant’s selfless strategy.
“I thought Kobe was unbelievable tonight,” Lakers forward Ron Artest told reporters after contributing 15 points and six rebounds. “He just played the game in the right way.
“He’s the best player in the world and he trusted us. For him to sacrifice like that, it’s important that we sacrifice whatever we have ... play hard on every possession. We’ve got to be able to match his sacrifice.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson also applauded Bryant’s efforts.
“There’s never been a defense or a style I have seen that really stopped Kobe (scoring),” Jackson said. “Tonight he was very focused on getting the team to run the offense, so he didn’t really get into that mode.”
The ploy worked like a dream as the Lakers leveled the best-of-seven series 1-1 in a low-scoring, physical encounter in front of a sellout crowd at the Staples Center.
“Offensively we weren’t very good, we were good enough,” Bryant said. “Defensively, though, we played well. We were active, we were aggressive. That’s what we need to be.
“We had a good rhythm. We found something that we can hang our hats on in terms of the intensity and aggression that we play with. Going up to New Orleans, I think that environment will bring it out too.”
Asked about his decision to play the role of facilitator, Bryant replied: “I wanted to make sure that the guys gain confidence in being aggressive.
“It’s not about the amount of shots you take, it’s about giving effort at both ends of the floor. I think it was very important for us to understand that as a group.
“We win games at the defensive end. For the most part, I was just going through the motions and just facilitating tonight.”
While Lakers All Stars Bryant and Spaniard Pau Gasol, with just eight points, had relatively quiet nights in terms of scoring, Artest, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom excelled.
Bynum weighed in with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Odom, who was presented with the NBA’s sixth man of the year award shortly before tipoff, contributed 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
“Drew, Ron and Lamar had games that were effective in scoring for us,” Jackson said. “Lamar played really nice.
“He got in a rhythm almost right away, some things happened for him on the offensive end that felt good playing with that (reserve) unit in the second and fourth quarters.”
Asked how his team were likely to fare in Game Three in New Orleans on Friday, Jackson replied with a smile: “Who knows how we are going to react to the next game?
“Who knows what the refereeing is going to be like in the next game? They might tighten it up. We may have to play an altogether different type of game.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford)