- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

LOS ANGELES Logic said that if Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal simply continued what they had done since the playoffs began combine for slightly more than 60 points a game the Los Angeles Lakers would end the Philadelphia 76ers' season by Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

O'Neal did his part in Game 1, jack-hammering the 76ers for 44 points and 22 rebounds. But Bryant didn't do his in the Sixers' stunning 107-101 overtime victory Wednesday at Staples Center. The loss ended the Lakers' quest to become the first team in league history to go through the postseason undefeated.

Everything about Bryant's game that night was plain ugly. Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, who finished with 48 points the most by a player appearing in his first finals victimized him so often that Lakers coach Phil Jackson opted to guard the MVP with reserve guard Tyronn Lue for long stretches in the second half.

Offensively, Bryant who's drawing more Michael Jordan comparisons than Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway and Vince Carter ever have scored 15 points on 7-for-22 shooting and committed six of the Lakers' 19 turnovers.

In past years, Bryant would have taken the game film to his beach-front home, popped it in the VCR and gone over each agonizing detail into the morning hours. But now, Bryant, who hopes to make amends in Game 2 at Staples Center tonight, handles a poor performance differently.

"I just put it behind me," said Bryant, whose play in the first 11 games of the playoffs helped spark those MJ comparisons. "Game 1 was Game 1. You know, we move on from it and just get ready for Game 2 and see what happens there. You just come back and play as hard as you possibly can, leave it all on the floor and just give it your all."

Bryant's body of work during the postseason suggests Wednesday's sub-par outing was a fluke. Through 12 playoff games, Bryant is averaging 30.3 points, seven rebounds and 6.1 assists in 41.8 minutes. And that's against noted defenders like Portland's Scottie Pippen and Sacramento's Doug Christie. He scored at least 45 points in two playoff games and has had double-figure rebounding and assist games.

However, the 76ers present a different challenge for Bryant. Although the San Antonio Spurs were considered the best defensive team in the league, the 76ers play the in-your-face style that Bryant has had problems with in the past. When the 76ers defeated the Lakers 112-97 on Feb. 14, Philadelphia guards Aaron McKie and Eric Snow limited Bryant to 18 points.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson will change at least one thing tonight. The Lakers like Bryant to bring the ball upcourt sometimes to get them into their offense, but yesterday Jackson said that allows 76ers defenders to body up against him.

"One thing is to take him off the ball, let other people bring the ball up and play him a little bit at the wing and do some things that give him an opportunity to play behind the guard corps and have an advantage to be in the post some," Jackson said.

Much of the attention on the series has focused on the matchup between Iverson and Bryant. Although Iverson certainly got the better of the two in Wednesday's game, he knows Bryant is capable of erupting at any moment. In fact, he's expecting it.

"You can't stop Kobe Bryant," Iverson said. "All you can do is contain him. You can't stop him. Kobe is too talented. It's crazy to say that you can stop Kobe because you can't."

Snow agreed: "We didn't shut him down. He just missed shots that he usually makes. I'm smart enough to know that he's going to have some big games here because of the kind of talent he has. We just have to make sure that if he does anything, he works hard for it."

Bryant won't lose any sleep trying to prepare for tonight's game. He's not going to watch any more video than Jackson requires of him. And he's not going to try to break up Jackson's triangle offense to get better shots.

"The thing we have to do is stay within our offense and not worry," Bryant said. "As far as having a bad shooting game, I don't think about that stuff. In the past I might have tried to force the issue. Now I just stay within the context of the game and just let the game flow."

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