At some point, the rust was going to wear off Kobe Bryant, and along the same line, his first win this season since coming back from his injury was going to happen, sooner or later. It turned out to be after four games, beating the Charlotte Bobcats 88-85, putting up his best performance since returning.
Bryant scored 21 points, adding 7 rebounds and 8 assists while also playing a big part on defense, putting on his most complete performance this season, quite enjoying being the point guard de facto. The ball usually goes through his hands most of the time anyway, but it seems like there’s even less of an excuse for him to hog the ball this time. His decision making is far from perfect, turning the ball over 7 times, but there’s no doubt he’s feeling more and more comfortable being back.
I don’t know what I can and can’t do. I’m just trying to measure it. I didn’t know if I could drive to the basket. Every game has been like that. I knew it was coming eventually, it’s not a big deal. We know it’s a marathon not a sprint. We have to do the right things game in, game out. Some games you’re going to lose.
The Lakers produced an 11-2 run late in the fourth quarter to pull off the close win, with Bryant scoring the free throws that put the team in the lead with 37 seconds left in the game, before Pau Gasol sealed the deal with free throws of his own and a block on Al Jefferson to end the game after Ben Gordon air balled a three point shot. Gasol continues to struggle on the court as the rift between him and Mike D’Antoni continues to grow about his role and performance. Gasol was only 6-of-18 from the field en route to 15 points, but he did have 4 blocks in a big defensive game, helping Jordan Hill limit Al Jefferson to only 14 points and 7-of-18 from the field.
It seems the Lakers are devolving into the team we saw last year. It has finally brought them a win, but it’s not having too many happy faces around. Bryant controls the ball distribution and it might come along with some fancy passes, but the motion, spacing and ball movement we saw from the Lakers before his return has disappeared. With Steve Blake injured there’s not really a choice but let Bryant run everything, but it really seems to be hurting Xavier Henry and Nick Young, combining to shoot only 3-of-16 from the field, scoring 17 points.
What will be the end of this road? Hard to see. Bryant isn’t playing much differently than he did before the injury in terms of confidence. His ability to recognize openings seems to be just as polished as before, but his legs won’t allow him to make certain plays. A bit smarter defense from the Bobcats might have won them the game, but that wisdom and game intelligence is part of what Bryant brings to the game, and the Lakers have decided they’ll live or die with it, no matter the cost.