MILWAUKEE — Many players have tried to call themselves Kobe Stoppers in years past.
While nobody has ever truly stopped one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, the best defenders have found a way to make him work for his points.
A quick glance at Thursday’s box score shows that Bryant scored 30 points against the Bucks. What it doesn’t show is how hard he had to work for those points, with 18 coming from the free-throw line.
For years, Milwaukee’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been tasked with guarding Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo
Anthony and the other great scorers in the league. With Mbah a Moute easing his way back from a turf toe injury, Marquis Daniels picked up the slack Thursday and scored 16 points on the other end of the floor.
Daniels hounded Bryant all night, forcing the Lakers’ star into a 6-of-17 shooting night. The Bucks were able to play better team defense because Daniels and Mbah a Moute – when he was in the game – took care of Bryant and didn’t need a double-team.
“I like the challenge,” Daniels said. “He’s probably one of the better players in the league, if not the best player. It’s a challenge. I just wanted to make it tough for him. Come out (and) just challenge all his shots. I know I’ve got help behind me with Larry (Sanders) and the other guys, so I just wanted to take my turn guarding him and just make it tough for him.”
Though Daniels doesn’t have flashy numbers and isn’t the scorer he once was in his prime, the 32-year-old has been a valuable addition to Milwaukee’s bench.
There have been stretches in which Daniels hasn’t played much, but he’s always stayed ready and has been a positive influence in the locker room. He’s a tremendous asset to have on the bench, as Daniels can play shooting guard and small forward, can defend with the best of them and won’t hurt the Bucks offensively.
When injuries or foul trouble strikes, Milwaukee has a player it feels comfortable going to for extended periods of time.
“Marquis (Daniels) has been playing well for us,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “It’s tough when you sit on the bench for a little while, and he gets back in when Luc (Mbah a Moute) gets hurt. It takes you a little while to get your game rhythm going a little bit, but Marquis has been playing really well, and obviously (Thursday) you could see what he brings to the table for you from a defensive standpoint.
“He made some plays, made some shots. I thought the difference in the game for us was trying to keep Kobe as in check as you could keep a guy like him in check. Marquis made him work. He’s got a big body, strong, leans on him. It was a great effort by him.”
It was a badly needed victory by the Bucks, one that snapped a four-game losing streak and cut their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to four. A loss to the Lakers, coupled with the tremendous challenge Oklahoma City presents on Saturday, could have had things spiraling downward in a hurry.
“You look at your schedule and you’ve got the Lakers and Oklahoma City waiting for you when you get home,” Boylan said. “I don’t care where the Lakers are. You’re still playing against Kobe Bryant, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash. To be able to come back after having a tough loss (in Philadelphia) and win this one is huge for us.”
Daniels felt Thursday’s win was something that could fuel the Bucks to get back on track.
“When you’re losing, it seems like you’ll never win again,” Daniels said. “Finally we got a win, we can breathe a little bit. Not breathe, but it’s just fresh air and we’ve got to continue to build off this.
“Right now we’re working on ourselves. We’ve got to continue to work and get better on ourselves. Execution down the stretch, our defense needs to get better. We’re trying to make a playoff push, but we’ve got to work on Milwaukee basketball right now and continue to get better.”