Kobe Bryant speaks to the media after this return Sunday. (Elisa Hernandez/Living Out Loud LA)
“Beware the Mamba” flashed across a white drape in the middle of the Lakers court followed by shots of Kobe Bryant dunking and fans cheering. The wait was over, the night was finally here and Bryant took the floor for the first time in eight months.
“You try to control it as much as you can,” Bryant said. “But you can’t help but think of all the support and the hard work. I really, really worked my butt off this entire summer to try to get to this place.”
Bryant made his season debut at home with the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night after tearing his Achilles in April. Bryant took the floor in front of a sold out crowd full of anxious fans that patiently waited for his return.
“It’s really weird. I think the last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb, so it felt good to get out there,” said Bryant with a laugh.
Despite the Lakers losing to the Toronto Raptors 106-94, the score didn’t matter. All eyes were on Bryant and his newly repaired Achilles tendon. With all the buzz surrounding Bryant’s return players admit they got caught up in the moment.
“It’s Kobe Bryant and sometimes you can catch yourself watching him while you’re out there on the floor,” said Nick Young. “The whole thing was about Kobe tonight, so we got caught up a little bit in the moment too.”
Although thousands of fans cheered for Bryant regardless of a missed shot or turnover, Bryant was still disappointed in his debut. He gave himself an F. Bryant was 2 of 9 shooting finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers.
“It’s a matter of getting those game legs back,” said Bryant. “It’s takes a little time hopefully sooner rather than later like you know Tuesday.”
Clearly Bryant’s confidence is not shaken by his performance and he is optimistic about Tuesday’s game versus the Phoenix Suns. As for the rest of the starters it was a different story.
“There’s always that possibility that the flow is disrupted and you don’t play well. We didn’t play well obviously and it’s going to be a work in progress,” said Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni.
For the first time the Lakers didn’t have a starter score in double figures. Bryant led the starters with nine points followed by Pau Gasol who had seven points. The rest of the starters combined for a mere seven points.
“The starters were balanced. It wasn’t a good balance, but they were balanced,” said Bryant.
The Lakers received a huge performance from their bench, which outscored the starters 71-23. This was the first time the Lakers bench outscored the starters by 48 points. All of the bench players ended in double figures. Young led the team with 19 points followed by Xavier Henry who scored 17 points off the bench.
Still it seemed when Bryant was on the floor the team’s offense became stagnant. The Lakers scored 53 points with Bryant off the court compared to 41 points with him on the court.
“We just got to go out there and support each other. Any given night somebody can step up and be explosive. We just have to continue to support each other and make each other better,” said Bryant.
D’Antoni mentioned how they will proceed with Bryant, and stated that they will continue to monitor Bryant’s minutes. Bryant played for 28 minutes versus the Raptors, which D’Antoni said they look to keep consistent.
“Their baby steps, he’s coming back from a tough injury and he’s coming off eight months…he is human I think,” said D’Antoni. “I don’t think we’ll build on [Kobe's minutes]…we want to keep it around 25-26 [minutes].”
Win or lose one has to remember that this is just one of many games still to come for Bryant.
It might take some time for the Black Mamba to truly get in sync with his teammates, himself and pace of a real game. With just one game under his belt this season it is still a work in progress.
“Rhythm is completely out of sync in terms of being able to read passing lanes and judge the timing of players in between those lanes,” said Bryant, “It’s a start, so I guess a start is good.”