Mike D’Antoni has never been one to sit idly by during a game, and he certainly did not allow a recovering knee to hinder him from screaming, gesturing, and coaching on Tuesday night.
In his first night on the job, the Lakers new coach faced a tough Brooklyn Nets team that was on a five-game winning streak. D’Antoni, recovering from knee surgery, was noticeably limping when he entered his press conference before the game, and he continued to hobble while walking on the sidelines.
D’Antoni faced adversity throughout the night, and he passed every test. He clearly was not at 100 percent, but he was still intelligent, witty, and passionate in the pregame and post game press conferences.
When asked about the heavy minutes Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard played, D’Antoni replied, “They get paid a lot of money. So, they’re going to earn every cent of it. I’ll wear them out.”
To what extent he was joking was unclear, but the number of minutes Bryant plays may not entirely be D’Antoni’s decision.
About six minutes into the game against Brooklyn, Bryant picked up two fouls after an aggressive start on both ends of the floor. As is customary, D’Antoni sent out a substitute, Chris Duhon, to replace a player in early foul trouble.
Bryant was not interested. Duhon walked onto the court, but Bryant didn’t move an inch closer to the Lakers bench.
To avoid a delay of game warning, Darius Morris came off the floor. Kobe went on to make his next four shots, teaching D’Antoni that when Kobe wants to stay in the game, he’s staying in the game.
When discussing the incident D’Antoni said, “I’ve got to learn to be able to trust them because I don’t know them.”
Kobe didn’t foul for the rest of the quarter. Then, he picked up his third foul with about three minutes to go in the second quarter. This time, D’Antoni didn’t bother sending a substitute out.
Bryant earned the trust of his new coach.
It probably helped that Bryant delivered an assist on the play of the night, a pick and roll between Kobe and Gasol that resulted in an alley-oop to Howard. That highlight tied the score at 86.
The ‘Mamba’ would go on to score the final eight points for the Lakers and claimed a narrow victory.
On Tuesday night, Mike D’Antoni got a pleasant reminder that he is coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kobe Bryant is now on his side.