If ever there were a Pyrrhic victory for the Lakers, it came on Friday at Staples Center when Kobe Bryant suffered a probable torn Achilles with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter of a 118-116 win over Golden State.
Bryant put on a move he's made a million times with Warriors wing Harrison Barnes defending, driving to his left before collapsing to the floor. According to Pau Gasol, Kobe almost hopefully asked Barnes if he kicked him, trying to avoid what ended up being inevitably bad news.
Bryant will undergo an MRI tomorrow to confirm the diagnosis.
Even after suffering the injury, Bryant slowly limped his way to the free throw line and sank two clutch free throws on one leg, tying the game at 108. He then hobbled his way directly into the locker room, under his own power, knowing exactly what had happened.
His season was over, with his team just two games from securing a playoff berth and a shot to see where they might go after a Murphy's Law season of injuries, capped by the worst one of all.
"Most dedicated guy I've ever met," said Gasol, he and the rest of his teammates all trying to hold in their emotions in a locker room that can best be described as sad. "It's a tough blow for everyone, (especially) those of us that love and respect him even more."
So dedicated is the 34-year-old, 17-year veteran Bryant that he had played nearly four complete games in the past two weeks, including all 48 minutes of the last game at Portland; he had yet to come out of the game before his left leg gave out, after 44:54 of action.
Below is a transcription of Bryant's comments, made on crutches in the locker room:
Q: On his emotions now:
Bryant: Just terrible. Terrible feeling.
Q: On what it felt like:
Bryant: It felt like I got kicked.
Q: On what happened on the play:
Bryant: Not really much to take you through. I made a move I’ve made a million times and (the Achilles) just popped.
Q: On if the injury was a cause from all the minutes he had been playing:
Bryant: Who knows? It was all necessary. It’s just a freak situation, I guess.
Q: On if this is the most disappointing moment he’s had:
Bryant: Yeah, by far. We worked so hard to put ourselves in a position where we control our own fate.
Q: On how the team will forge ahead without him:
Bryant: Continue to play. We’ve been dealing with injuries all year. I’ll do what I can – watching film, preparing and communicating to the guys.
Q: On if he would try playing on an injury like this:
Bryant: I can’t even walk. I tried to put pressure on my heel to see if I could do it that way, but there was just nothing there.
Q: On if he first knew that the injury was what it was:
Bryant: Oh yeah. For sure.
Q: On what the future holds coming back from this injury:
Bryant: I’m not really sure. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this. Obviously there’s a bunch of players that have had this same injury, so I know I can do this. All I can do is what they’ve done, who had more success getting back quicker and healthier, and see what they did and see if I can improve upon it.
Q: On his emotions coming off the floor:
Bryant: Just pissed and sad. I worked really hard to get to this point. Just pissed.
Q: On what he was thinking when he injured his knee earlier:
Bryant: Just keep playing, just keep playing. Keep battling through it and keep pushing through it. I was trying to conserve some energy for the fourth and get back some momentum for us. We got going a little bit and the guys brought it home.
Q: On if the previous injury was related to his Achilles:
Bryant: They were different. My knee – when I came down, I hyperextended it a little bit. I just had to shake it off and it was fine.
Q: On if he can put this year into words:
Bryant: It’s been a crazy year. That’s for sure.
Q: On his emotions during the game after he left:
Bryant: Thank God we pulled this one out. We fought hard and it was a well-deserved win.
Q: On if he’s confident the team can make the playoffs without him:
Bryant: I’m confident. We just have to go out there and play hard, play defense and rebound the ball. That’s the biggest thing is the preparation.
Q: On if he knew what the injury was:
Bryant: Yeah, I was just hoping it wasn’t what I knew it was. Just trying to walk it off and hoping the sensation would come back.
Q: On what it felt like when he first injured it:
Bryant: I had no Achilles. That’s the sensation.
Q: On the next steps:
Bryant: MRI, surgery and then recovery.
Q: On his feeling from the locker room:
Bryant: I was really tired. I was upset and dejected thinking about this mountain I have to overcome.
Q: On if overcoming this injury is at the top of the list over his career:
Bryant: Yeah, it is. But it's fueling me. I can feel it already. It’s just players at this stage of their careers, they pop an Achilles and the pundits say they never come back the same. I can hear it already. It’s pissing me off already.
Q: On if this could be career-ending?
Bryant: Really? Really? Are you kidding?
(Editor’s note – Kobe’s translation: no chance. He’ll be back.)