Too Often a Lull Moment for Bryant

There will be questions today about the mental state of the Lakers after their first loss in more than two months, their first deficit in a playoff series in more than two years.

But this is really about the response of one person: Kobe Bryant.

He didn't look very Next in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night. No one called him his idol. Bryant missed 15 of his 22 shots. He could only watch helplessly while Allen Iverson launched several jumpers over his head. And he turned the ball over at one of the game's most critical junctures.

So we'll see if the Lakers can act like a great team and regroup, and we'll see if Bryant can follow the lead of all the great players and not have two bad games in a row.

"It's easy to put games behind me," Bryant said.

"All I want to do is win. I'm not worried about me."

Lakerland shouldn't worry about Bryant, but it does need to watch closely.

The Lakers don't need him to be the best player on the court every night, especially at Staples Center when Shaquille O'Neal is hitting the 76ers for 44 points. Rick Fox provided the secondary scoring punch with 19 points. But the Lakers need Kobe to get 20. Wednesday night he scored 15.

Remember all of those graceful sashays to the hoop against Sacramento and San Antonio? Not available against the 76ers.

When he drove the lane Wednesday he usually found Dikembe Mutombo standing there. Mutombo blocked a dunk attempt after Bryant went baseline in the second quarter.

The Lakers were most effective when O'Neal went directly at Mutombo and overpowered him. But because O'Neal likes to play close to the basket and isn't an outside shooting threat, it allowed Mutombo to provide help whenever anyone else tried to score inside.

Mutombo knocked away an alley-oop pass for Bryant from Brian Shaw.

That's one reason Bryant didn't have any dunks. The other is the Philadelphia perimeter players didn't let him get by them.

"They got into Kobe's body, and bodied him on the dribble, stripped the ball when he picked it up," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. "He really didn't clear himself for shots very easily tonight."

"I think you have to give credit to their guards," Bryant said. "You have to give credit to Eric Snow, you have to give credit to [Aaron] McKie and Raja Bell.

Even though he didn't get very good looks, Bryant kept shooting, through a one-for-four start, through a two-for-10 first half.

He has to. It's Bryant's job to keep shooting, keep fighting through the struggles.

Iverson started one for five, but he had 13 shots by the end of the first quarter and 30 points on 24 shots by halftime.

As Iverson said of the great players (himself included): "If they're struggling all game, they can do something that one second."

Even Jackson said: "I thought he was going to get going at the end of the game."

It seemed he might have found it when he made a jumper to tie the score with 3 1/2 minutes left.

But then he missed his next shot and O'Neal missed a follow.

Bryant helped the Lakers get the lead when he drove to the hoop and dished to O'Neal for a dunk. Snow tied it with a jumper on the other end.

After Mutombo missed two free throws that could have given the 76ers the lead, the Lakers had a chance to go ahead with 34 seconds remaining.

Yes, Bryant should have have had the ball in his hands for the Lakers' last possession of the fourth quarter, with the score tied.

How many times has he come through for them in the past?

But this time, he went baseline, spun into a thicket of 76ers and lost the ball out of bounds.

Um, how many times have we seen that as well? Plenty back in the day, but not lately.

Unlike the old days, he didn't take many horrendous shots Wednesday. But he did take tough shots, thanks to the 76er defense.

Will he be patient and wait for some better shots to open up? Or will he be frustrated and start pressing the issue?

He was bothered when he finished his interview session Wednesday night, but he has that confidence that tells him everything will be OK, and it's as if he wishes everyone else could understand that as well.

Usually when Bryant steps out of the locker room he has people swarming him, people escorting him, people besieging him, people on him.

He walked alone through the corridor to his car on Wednesday. One reporter tried to keep pace, then another flanked him before the omnipresent red-jacketed Staples Center security force cut them off.

Bryant was by himself again, alone with his thoughts and a couple of videotapes that have probably been rewound over and over by the time you read this.

It's an interesting challenge for him now: to perform like the player he can be, the player the Lakers need him to be without regressing to the player he used to be when they were a team that actually lost games.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com

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Bad Start

A look at Kobe Bryant's numbers in Game 1 compared to the rest of the playoffs:

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Category Playoffs Game 1 Points 31.6 15 FG-FGA 11-23 7-22 Field goal % .478 .318 Rebounds 7.0 3 Assists 6.2 5 Turnovers 3.0 6

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