As I watched Thursday’s first round NBA playoff Game 6 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, I became increasingly befuddled with the lack of foul calls in the series against Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ 6’6″ all-everything shooting guard.
I understand that Bryant, a 14-time NBA All-Star, (with a whopping five Championship rings) is going to get the benefit of the doubt more often than not.
You could say he’s “earned” that right.
Bryant’s even been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team an impressive 11 times (nine First Team honors), so clearly, the guy can play some “D.”
However, throughout the best-of-seven series, Bryant got away with more than his fair share of reach-in fouls and physical contact compared to most of his NBA counterparts.
It got me thinking, “I wonder how many times Kobe (named for the famous beef of Kobe, Japan, which his parents saw on a restaurant menu) has been whistled for a foul, not only in the series against the Nuggets, but in his career.”
Through the first round of the 2012 playoffs (seven games), Bryant was called for 18 fouls, including one technical in Game 1 and one flagrant in Game 6.
Bryant averaged fewer fouls (2.6) and more minutes (40.3) per game in this series than he’s averaged in his past 214 career playoff games (3 fouls in 39.3 minutes per game).
Miami Heat star (and reigning MVP) LeBron James, teammate Dwayne Wade and 2012 scoring champ Kevin Durant of the Thunder are among the 53 NBA players who get whistled for more postseason fouls than Bryant (James, Wade and Durant all average 2.8 fouls per game) .
For the record, Bryant has fouled out only 18 times during the regular season and three times during the postseason in his 16-year career. He last fouled out of a game on January 27th, 2009.
By comparison, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird each fouled out 11 times, Magic Johnson did it just 5 times and amazingly, Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 1.99 fouls per game over his career, never fouled out in 14 seasons.
For all the calls that aren’t made against Bryant, one that does stand out is the flagrant foul he committed on Kenneth Faried early in the third quarter of Game 6.
As Faried drove in for a layup, Bryant smacked him in the head with his right arm, sending the Nuggets rookie hard to the floor.
Bryant was called for a type 1 flagrant foul, which nba.com says “is unnecessary contact. This is usually when a defensive player winds-up and makes hard contact with the offensive player or makes hard contact and then follows through.”
Faried was briefly dazed, but regained composure, stepped to the free throw line and hit both shots.
Not surprisingly, chants of “Kobe sucks” ensued, and boos filled the Pepsi Center whenever Bryant touched the ball.
The Nuggets rolled 116-97, to force a Game 7 in Los Angeles Saturday night.
In Game 7, Bryant wound up with two fouls, as the Lakers finished off the Nuggets 96-87 to advance to the second round against second-seeded Oklahoma City.
After Game 6, TNT’s Charles Barkley said Bryant should have been called for a flagrant 2 foul which warrants an automatic ejection “because he hit him in the head.”
In case you were wondering, each of the series’ seven games featured a different trio of officials.
So while Kobe was the beneficiary of several “no-calls,” we do know that 21 referees had a hand in cutting #24 some slack in the first round.