One of the most notable basketball moves attached to Shane Battier’s NBA career was the hand-in-the-face defensive tactic he often applied to Kobe Bryant. In case you don’t know what it is, here’s a vintage photo of Battier guarding Bryant with his famous hand-in-the-face gesture.
Battier often utilized this when he went against Bryant, most notably in the 2009 NBA playoffs when the Los Angeles Lakers battled the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals. Battier had the assignment of locking up Kobe and did his homework by studying an extensive scouting report about Bryant’s offensive moves.
The Rockets forward learned that Bryant’s most significant weakness (at least offensively) was the 2-point dribble jump shot, and so he created the hand-in-the-face gesture because of this.
Battier dared Bryant to take his weakest jump shot.
So during the 7-game series in the Semifinals, Battier realized that the hand-in-the-face tactic was a mental game he played with Kobe. Bryant knew that Battier deployed this defensive strategy on him because he dared the Laker to shoot a 2-point dribble jump shot. As a result, the 5-time champion went out of his way to make sure to prove that the tactic didn’t work.
“You know I got a lot of acclaim for the hand-in-the-face tactic. And so people misunderstand like why I did that and if especially for a guy like Kobe. I knew Kobe would go out of his way to prove that this tactic wouldn’t work because he never wanted to admit he had a weakness. Well, what’s the only way that he can prove that this doesn’t work? Is to take a long 2-point dribble jump shot. What is Kobe Bryant’s worst shot? A long 2-point dribble jump shot,” Battier shared in the Showtime Basketball podcast.
Battier also shared that he was completely fine with Bryant trying to prove that his hand-in-the-face tactic wouldn’t work because it forced the latter to shoot more 2-point dribble jump shots.
“All I cared about was that he took that shot. And I knew if he took enough of those shots, he was never going to have like these huge, huge huge games over a long period of time.” Battier added.“That was the mental game I played with Kobe.”
Bryant vs. Battier
Although Bryant went on the record to say that Tony Allen was the defender that gave him the most problems throughout his career, Battier is also considered one of the best to defend the Laker legend.
As mentioned above, their best battles happened in the 2009 Semi-Conference Finals, which went to 7 games. In those 7 games, Kobe put up 27.4 points, 3.7 assists, and 5.0 rebounds in an average of 37.9 minutes per game. As seen in the highlight compilation below, look how many times Bryant had to take 2-point jump shots and was even fired up when defended by Battier.
Moreover, according to Basketball Reference, Bryant averaged 28.6 points per game against Battier’s teams on 43.4% shooting. His efficiency when being guarded by the Rockets forward was slightly lower than his career average (44.7%).
So technically, the stats prove that Battier’s hand-in-the-gesture managed to disrupt Bryant’s offensive game, but like he always does, Kobe conquered it and proved that he was no tactic that could stop him during his prime.