The Denver Nuggets didn't just want to stave off elimination when they came out of their Pepsi Center locker room to face the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6. They wanted to whip up on the Pacific Division champs, firing out to a 13-0 lead three minutes into the game and doing their level best to make sure a stomach-bug-stricken Kobe Bryant didn't get the chance to get well and get over on their watch. Visibly weakened but undaunted, Bryant rose to the occasion, scoring 19 points in the first half to send L.A. into half down nine, but he had to have been frustrated by the poor performance (non-Kobe Lakers shot 10 of 28 in the first half) and lack of effort (L.A.'s transition defense and closeouts on shooters were awful) offered by his teammates.
A little over a minute into the second half, with the Denver lead back up to 12, Bryant expressed some of that frustration. Unfortunately, he did so on the head of Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried, who was in mid-air and about to attempt a layup:
Bryant was assessed a type-1 flagrant foul for swinging his right arm and cracking Faried in the head; for a brief period, as Deadspin's Timothy Burke noted (and showed), the rookie from Morehead State looked to be completely out of it. After getting back to his feet and getting his wits about him, Faried knocked down the two free throws he was awarded following the flagrant, and continued to play on.
So did the rest of the Nuggets, kicking it into overdrive with a 10-3 run to extend their lead and outscoring L.A. 33-23 to close the third quarter up 90-68. Denver went on to win 116-97, tying their first-round series at three games apiece and forcing a Game 7 at Staples Center on Saturday night.
Hit the jump for Bryant's explanation of the play during his postgame press conference.
"I genuinely was trying to swipe at the ball," Bryant told reporters after the game. "As the ball was going up, I was trying to get it before he elevated to get to the rim, to try to swipe it and knock it out of bounds. It's unfortunate I got him in the head. It definitely wasn't intentional — I was trying to make a play on the ball, and I'm just happy he was OK."
That, unsurprisingly, isn't how Faried saw it, according to Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post:
Question: Did Bryant go for the ball and the block at all?
"No," Faried replied. "He was mad. Their team was frustrated."
The truth, as it usually does, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Yes, Bryant's swipe was likely intended as a play on the ball, with the combination of Faried's 22-year-old springs and Kobe's more earthbound 33-year-old, gastroenteritis-stricken body leading to a meeting place a bit more precarious than the All-Star likely intended. But given the fact that his team was getting rolled, down a dozen in a closeout playoff game on the road, I'm willing to bet that Bryant wasn't trying too hard to make sure his swipe at the ball didn't become a hard foul that prevented the rookie from getting a fast-break dunk, either. Kobe typically colors within the lines, but he's also an intense dude with a temper. A little from Column A and a little from Column B seems like the most likely answer.
Faried finished out the game, scoring 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds in just under 28 minutes of work in the Denver win. Bryant fought through illness en route to 31 points on 23 shots in 37 minutes in the loss.