LOS ANGELES, June 5 -- A day after the best NBA Finals performance of his career, Kobe Bryant managed to crack a smile and laugh with his teammates during practice. But when he sat down to answer questions about scoring 40 points with eight rebounds and eight assists against the Orlando Magic in Game 1, Bryant was wearing an all-black jogging suit and steam was coming from his nostrils.
Asked about the serious, defiant approach he has taken to the Finals, Bryant said: "I'm just focused and just ready to go. The last two times we've been to the Finals, we came up short. This time around, we're really locked in."
In their championship run from 2000 to '02, the Lakers didn't always win the first game, but center Shaquille O'Neal set the tone for the series with intimidating outings. O'Neal had the previous two 40-point games in Finals openers: 43 points and 19 rebounds in a win over Indiana in 2000, and 44 points and 20 rebounds in a loss against Philadelphia in 2001. In the opening win against New Jersey in 2002, O'Neal had 36 points and 16 rebounds.
No Laker scored more than 34 in the Finals openers against Detroit or Boston, both losses, with Bryant only getting 24 last season against the Celtics.
Thursday night, Bryant became the tone setter.
"I think he just really took that aspect of it as a serious element of where you have to go with these playoffs," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "You have to stay driven and motivated, and I think it's really important that he takes that leadership role for this team."
Magic Mixed Up at Point
Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said he will continue to stick with Rafer Alston as the starting point guard, despite the return of all-star Jameer Nelson, who made his first appearance in more than four months on Thursday. Nelson injured his right shoulder on Feb. 2, but came back to score six points with four assists in 23 minutes.
Alston had six points and one assist in 25 minutes, but claimed that he was out of rhythm in the second half after sitting while Nelson played the entire second period. Van Gundy admitted that he made a mistake, and plans to use Nelson in six- to seven-minute spurts.
"I thought he played really well early in the second quarter, and so I continued to go with him. First game back in four months, it was too long," he said.
from the washington times