After undergoing surgery to repair his ruptured left Achilles tendon on Sunday, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant shared with his more than 2 million Twitter followers his plans for taking in his team's critical matchup with the San Antonio Spurs:
Can't move for 2weeks so I'm laid up. Will watch game on tv and give adjustments if needed by phone at halftime #countontheteam
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 14, 2013
That tracked with Bryant's early Saturday morning comments on his Facebook page, where he wrote (among other things) that he guesses he "will be Coach Vino the rest of this season." And as Mike Bresnahan wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Coach Vino" kept his promise to dial in and make sure his teammates — well, one in particular — were dialed in as they attempted to hang onto the West's No. 8 seed:
Bryant was immobilized at home Sunday but not far from the action, contacting Lakers trainer Gary Vitti at halftime. "He texted Gary, 'I want to talk to Pau,' and Gary handed me the phone and I talked to him for a quick second," Gasol said. Bryant's advice? "Just stay aggressive and continue to look at the rim and take the shots when they're there," Gasol said.
How much Bryant's check-in actually mattered to Gasol is anybody's guess, but the support and vote of confidence came at a pretty good time — on a night where he scarcely resembled The Good Version Of Pau Gasol we'd seen over the past week (he went just 1 for 10 from the floor in 19 1/2 first-half minutes), it wouldn't be hard to envision Pau receding and playing more tentatively for the balance of the game.
Gasol didn't set the world on fire in the second half, making only two of his seven field-goal attempts, but he did keep plugging away and continued his strong work on the boards against the San Antonio front line, finishing with 16 rebounds and three blocks. He also grabbed two big offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter that turned into L.A. 3-pointers, keeping the sluggish Spurs at bay and helped the Lakers score a 91-86 win that extended their lead over the idle Utah Jazz to 1 1/2 games for the West's eighth and final playoff spot.
Expected to pick up the slack in Bryant's absence, center Dwight Howard did just that, scoring a game-high 26 points on 9 for 15 shooting, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking three shots. The Lakers also got a huge contribution from point guard Steve Blake, who scored a season-high 23 points (including 18 in the first half) in his seventh straight start in place of the injured Steve Nash. On a night where virtually nobody could shoot — only five of the 19 players who saw floor time (Howard, Blake, Antawn Jamison, Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner) made half their field-goal attempts — that was enough to give the Lakers a five-point win and keep the pressure on Utah, who visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night and must win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
After the game, a bedridden Bryant shared praise for his teammates with Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears via email — "Gritty performance. At the doorstep. Gotta kick the door in now and finish the damn thing" — and with his Twitter followers:
... and then he returned to breaking down game film to provide each of the remaining Lakers with a to-do list to tackle at practice on Monday in preparation for Wednesday's regular-season finale against the playoff-bound Houston Rockets.
No, not really. (Probably.)