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Bryant Is Double Trouble for Trail Blazer Defenders

Game 1: His ability to take the smaller Stoudamire inside forces Portland to send help, opening options for Lakers.


The first wedding gift arrived Saturday.

Damon Stoudamire on a platter.

Kobe Bryant, now an engaging fellow in every way, took it from there. When the Portland Trail Blazers sent defensive help to the post, which was often, he smoothly passed out of the double team. On the rare occasions when Stoudamire, nine inches shorter, was left to go it alone, Bryant powered to the basket.

"I felt like I was back in high school," said Bryant, a center in those days. "I felt like I was the Big Man on Campus."

So guess who was voted Most Likely to Succeed? The Trail Blazers had made the same pact with the devil during the regular season, putting Stoudamire on Bryant, the bigger Steve Smith on Glen Rice and Scottie Pippen on the least of the Laker offensive threats in the group, Ron Harper, because that would allow Pippen to cheat off Harper and defend more like two or three guys at once. Bryant, the bigger guards also getting occasional chances with him, turned that into 24.3 points a game, about four more than any other Laker, and shot 55.6%.

The playoffs would merely present the chance to do it a lot of games in a row. Not that Bryant was looking forward to working over little Damon inside or anything.

"Punish him," Bryant said of the plan. "Absolutely punish him."

And that time late in the second quarter when Bryant got solo coverage, backed Stoudamire down on the baseline and spun to the basket, forcing the Trail Blazer to foul rather than surrender an easy score?

"Can't guard me," Bryant said to the stands, before making the two free throws.

Not alone. Bryant is 6 feet 7 and 215 pounds and a fistful of lightning for any defender, even ones who rate among the best in the league and might be within, oh, two weight classes. Stoudamire is a solid 5-10 and 171 pounds, but 5-10 and 171 pounds nonetheless.

The reinforcements made it a fair fight, Portland sending forwards for the double team most any time Stoudamire got posted low. So Bryant was limited to only nine shots, one away from his season low, and made four, tied for the second-fewest in that department. Thirteen points, hardly a powerful showing.

But Bryant did have six assists, after averaging 3.5 the first two rounds, several to beat the Trail Blazer defensive rotation when the defenders came in waves. Five of those were in the first half alone, helping the Lakers open a 24-point lead that became a 109-94 victory at Staples Center in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Three of those five, although not all from the post, led to three-point baskets.

It was a skilled performance, even with the pedestrian numbers, even with a sore right wrist, a nagging injury. He read the double teams well, one time spinning away from Stoudamire and Brian Grant to finish with a driving layup, another time quickly corkscrewing to the baseline to make an 11-foot jump shot instead of driving toward the middle because a second defender was coming from that direction. In 38 minutes, Bryant had one turnover.

"He was very poised with the ball," Trail Blazer Jermaine O'Neal said. "Very smart overall. That's what makes him the player that he is. He did a real good job with it."

Stoudamire declined to speak with reporters after the game, a rarity. Perhaps it was the frustration of missing six of 11 shots and committing four turnovers against four assists, usually while being defended by Bryant, and perhaps from the anger of playing only nine minutes in the second half.


West Points

What Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant averaged in scoring in the previous two series for Laker victories and defeats compared to what they scored in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals:


O'Neal Bryant Won 32.6 22.0 Lost 23.3 30.0 Game 1 41 13


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