Bryant has struggled mightily against the Celtics
Most are picking the Lakers to win the big NBA Finals. I'm not so sure. If Kobe Bryant struggles against the Celtics like he struggled against them in the regular season, the championship banner will belong to Boston.
The Lakers are so heavily reliant on Bryant that any reduction in his play could be fatal to their chances. Indeed, so far he has to a large extent carried Los Angeles in the postseason (his Win Contribution in the playoffs is an astronomical +0.988). The only other reliable contibutor for the L's has been Lamar Odom (+0.579). Many credit Pau Gasol's contribution, but by my estimate he's only been slightly above average (+0.182). If the Celtics could throw a wet towel on Bryant, its hard to imagine the Lakers winning four games.
How did they do it in the regular season? As far as I can tell from reconstructing the two Boston-LA matchups using ESPN's "Play-by-Play", the Celtics used a combination of Ray Allen, Tony Allen, James Posey, and a little bit of Ricky Pierce with great effect on #24. In the two games... two easy Celtic victories, btw... Kobe Bryant made negative Win Contributions to the Lakers of -0.245 (at Boston) and -2.251 (at LA). Remember, +0.000 represents the Win Contribution you would expect a merely average player to make at the same position in the same amount of playing time. Thus, Kobe's first outing against the C's was subpar... his second was almost impossibly bad. I would venture to say no team in basketball history could win a game when one of its players makes a Win Contribution that is <-2.000.
Granted, Gasol was not on the team for either of those two disasters, but he had his own problems with the C's playing for Memphis. In his one game against Boston he went 3-for-13 and made a Win Contribution to the Griz of -.570.
Perhaps the synergy created by the two will produce dramatically different statistical outcomes for each player. And perhaps Kobe's just a better player now than he was then. (The Lakers are certainly a better team.) Lakerland better hope so, because if the Celtics put a foot on Kobe's throat like they did previously, the Lakers have next to no chance.