Kobe Bryant is back. (Getty Images)
Savvy, sluggish and potentially successful at times – you wouldn’t expect anything less from Kobe Bryant in his return to the court. The Los Angeles Lakers legend, nearly eight months removed from an Achilles tear that cost him the end of the ill-fated 2012-13 season and first 19 games of this campaign, returned as a starter in the Lakers’ 106-94 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, immediately making an impact on the game on both ends – in ways both bad and good, fitting a 35-year old that had been away from the court for so long.
Kobe struggled with both his personal timing and chemistry with his teammates in the loss, finishing with nine points on 2-9 shooting with eight turnovers, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. He was given a sound chance to act the hero down the stretch, returning to the game to replace the Lakers’ leading scorer Xavier Henry (who was white hot before the benching in scoring 17 points on only eight shots, and did not return to the game) with the Lakers down six in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers could not overcome a spirited Raptors club on either end.
Here’s a clip of Kobe taking to the court for the first time since the second week of April:
Bryant was immediately given the starter’s nod, and after months away from the game and the Laker lineup, he was rightfully afforded special treatment during the team’s opening introductions. Watch:
Bryant’s initial first quarter forays weren’t the stuff of legend, but it's a credit to his significant basketball IQ that Kobe looked to work as a facilitator first, and scorer second. Bryant had three solid assist-level passes that were bobbled by teammates alongside the two dimes he did manage, and his first attempt from the field was a wild airball after an old-man (he is 35, after all) styled running hook. Here’s Bryant’s first attempt from the field, alongside several other early plays:
After making one out of two free throws in the second quarter, Kobe utilized the left hand he’d been using with increasing frequency in recent years to gather the first field goal of his season:
A fadeaway jumper in Landry Fields’ face soon followed, as Kobe ended the first half with five points on 2-5 shooting with four rebounds and three assists. The Lakers were down 13 at one point, but trimmed the Raptor advantage to four heading into the half in spite of an up and down performance on both ends. Chemistry with Bryant, as you’d expect, was a bit of a problem – but not nearly as bad a problem as you’d expect for a team playing with a game-tilting star for the first time all season.
We’ll update this post as the evening moves along. In the meantime, take a look at some of Bryant's classic plays:
And the promo that the NBA released earlier today, celebrating his return:
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