9:30 PM ET, December 8, 2013
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
Kobe Bryant returns from Achilles injury, but Lakers lose to Raptors
LOS ANGELES -- Nearly eight months after Kobe Bryant limped off the Lakers' home court with a torn Achilles tendon and a career in doubt, he struggled to keep his composure when he finally stepped back onto the same hardwood.
And though his comeback night didn't quite go to script, Bryant couldn't help reflecting on the work necessary to get back on that court -- and all the months of steady labor ahead to reclaim his game.
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Bryant began his 18th season by going 2 for 9 with four assists and eight turnovers in 28 minutes. The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history was injured April 12 and persevered through several months of rehabilitation to return for Los Angeles' 20th game of the new season, only to struggle with his shot, his timing and his new teammates.
"My rhythm is completely out of sync," Bryant said. "But this is a start, and I guess a start is good."
Nick Young scored 19 points for the Lakers, who went 10-9 without Bryant this season, forging a winning record without the five-time NBA champion and with little help from fellow injured MVP Steve Nash.
Fans cheered Kobe's every move and forgave every misstep, but Bryant couldn't rally the Lakers late despite another huge game by Los Angeles' reserves.
Bryant was touched by the fans' reception and his teammates' encouragement, although his ruthless competitive nature chafed against his natural emotions before the opening tip.
"You try to control it as much as you can, but you can't help thinking about the hard work," Bryant said. "You try to put it to the side as much as possible and do your work. ... It makes you appreciate the game, this franchise and this city, and all we've been through."
The Lakers never led, and Toronto improbably snapped its five-game losing streak despite playing without forward Rudy Gay, who is expected to be traded to Sacramento on Monday as the centerpiece of an apparent seven-player deal.
"[Bryant] was a little rusty, and you could tell because a lot of his shots were short," said DeRozan, who grew up in Los Angeles watching Kobe. "We were going against him his first game back, but he's going to get it going again and he'll be back to the old Kobe."
The Raptors had 11 players available after holding out Gay, center Aaron Gray and forward Quincy Acy, all set to head to the Kings in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes.
That turned out to be plenty, thanks to two Los Angeles natives. Johnson, who attended nearby Westchester High School, went 14 for 17 and surpassed his previous career high early in the third quarter. Johnson didn't take a shot in the fourth, but USC product DeRozan and Lowry held off the Lakers.
"We knew we were down because half our team got traded, so our mindset was just to go out there and play hard and win this game," Johnson said. "It was real emotional. It happened to us last year in Atlanta, too. We talked to those guys, and Rudy was still at the hotel, so we called him in and told him how much we all appreciated what they did for this team and the city."
The building had the buzz of a playoff game before the opening tip, with thousands of fans training cameras on Bryant during warmups. The building erupted in applause at every mention of Kobe, who was introduced last in the starting lineup to the thunderous strains of "The Imperial March" -- Darth Vader's theme from "Star Wars."
The crowd roared again the first time Bryant touched the ball, and he found Robert Sacre underneath the hoop for an assist on Los Angeles' first possession. With his wife, Vanessa, and two daughters sitting courtside, Bryant hit a free throw for his first point in the second quarter, followed shortly by an 8-foot, double-pump, left-handed bank shot for his first field goal.
Bryant added a signature 22-foot face-up jumper later in the period, but also showed clear signs of rust and unfamiliarity with his new teammates.
"We're going to have to carry Kobe a little bit, because of course he's not 100 percent, not in game shape," said Xavier Henry, who scored 17 points. "It's going to be fun. It's a long year, and he's just getting back."
The officials allowed Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas to attempt two free throws out of a timeout late in the first quarter, but belatedly realized Lowry was supposed to take the shots. Valanciunas' two makes were wiped off the board and Lowry was put at the line, where he made both shots anyway. ... Terrence Ross banked in a shot from beyond half-court at the first-quarter buzzer to put Toronto up 30-20.
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 8: A photograph of the locker of Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers before a...(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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MVP: Amir Johnson. Johnson blew by his previous high of 26 points with 32, shooting 14-of-17 and adding 10 rebounds. It was symptomatic of the game as a whole for L.A., which gave up 62 points in the paint.
That was ... swaggy: With a little more than nine minutes left to play, Nick Young drove baseline and attempted a 720-degree spinning reverse layup. It hit the top of the backboard.
Defining moment: The Imperial March. Kobe Bryant returned, and he was introduced to Darth Vader's theme. He played about how you'd expected a 35-year-old to play coming back from injury, turning the ball over eight times.
Next 5 Games
From Elias: The Lakers didn't have a starter score in double figures and the bench outscored the starters 71-23. Since starts were first recorded in the 1970-71 season, it's the first time the Lakers didn't have a starter score in double digits AND it's the first time the Lakers bench outscored their starters by this much (48).
Kobe Bryant played 28 minutes in his return to action Sunday, but the Lakers were far better offensively in the 20 minutes he was off the court. The Lakers scored 53 points with Bryant off the court as opposed to 41 with him on the court.[+]
Lakers Offense - With Kobe On/Off Court
Kobe Bryant isn't coming back to a bad situation. The Lakers started the season 4-7 but have gone 6-2 over their last 8 games while averaging 109 points per 100 possessions. To put that number into perspective, the Trail Blazers are the season leader in that category - and they too, are averaging 109.[+]
Lakers This Season
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