Two days earlier, Kobe Bryant was having trouble simply moving his sore right shoulder.
“(Before) last game, I was riding in my car and if I reached out to turn on the radio, I couldn’t move my arm,” Bryant said of the injury that has sidelined him for three of his last four games. “It’s not a good thing.”
But Bryant nonetheless suited up for his final matchup with the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, and — with his mind rather than his body — guided his Lakers to a 112-95 throttling against a team that entered with 55 wins in 60 games.
Bryant shot just 4-of-14, including misses on all five of his 3-point attempts, while sitting the entire fourth quarter. But he was instrumental in his 24 minutes off the floor, constantly barking advice at his young teammates from the end of the bench.
“He’s very aggressive with his words,” said D’Angelo Russell, who finished with 21 points. “I can’t really say what he was saying, but it was very aggressive. But he got the bigs to push up and the guards to push up (defensively on pick-and-rolls) and play tougher. Kobe did his thing.”
Despite being saddled with a large hot-and-cold pack wrapped around that ailing shoulder, Bryant was able to get his team focused in against an opponent that has feasted on opponents’ miscues and lethargy during its historic campaign.
“He led us,” Julius Randle said. “Like I said, it was important that we locked in for a full 48 minutes, because (the Warriors) are so explosive as a team. Any time (Bryant) thought there was any little slippage or whatever, he was on us.”
The Lakers may have been facing the defending champions, but that was nothing new for Bryant and his 2010 title teammate, Metta World Peace. Both provided the type of knowledge that the Lakers had hoped they would pass on to the next generation.
“Kobe kept us on our toes,” Russell said. “He was coaching us the whole game from the sideline. Metta (too) — they were doing a great job of coaching us on the sideline, telling us to push it when you got it, (saying) ’Don’t wait.’ It worked.”
While Bryant and World Peace predominantly supervised from the sideline, the Lakers’ youth went to work.
Jordan Clarkson led all players with 25 points, while Russell added four steals to his scoring, and Randle racked up his 27th double-double of the year (12 points, 14 rebounds) — all while punishing a team that is within range of usurping the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72 wins for the most in NBA history.
“When you pay attention to little details, good things happen,” Bryant said. “As they grow, they start trusting that more and more. They start trusting the process more and more. So from that aspect, I think it was a big game.”