The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Phoenix Suns 116-107 on Sunday evening in a game that celebrated the return of Kobe Bryant following three games out due to fatigue.
How did he do?
In 32 minutes, Bryant put in 10 points, passed off seven assists and pulled down eight rebounds. He only took 10 shots and made four of them. He committed five turnovers, but two steals helped balance that number slightly. Overall, Bryant did not overwhelm, but he also did not blow the game in the dying moment, which had been a recurring theme this season.
"I'm just trying to be more patient," Bryant said after the game. "The defense is loading up on me completely, and there's not much that I can do without forcing it."
Down the stretch, Bryant shared the basketball and allowed his teammates to take, make and miss the big shots. To put that into numbers, Bryant attempted only one shot in nearly seven minutes on the floor during the fourth quarter. Instead, he looked to Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jeremy Lin late in the game.
If this game was only about making shots, the Lakers would have likely won, as they scored 26 points in the final 12 minutes. However, defense is half the game, and the Lakers failed to control the Suns' offense. Giving up 116 points was proof of that.
"[We] just couldn't get stops," Lakers coach Byron Scott lamented after the game. "When we got a stop, they got the offensive rebound."
The Lakers lost the battle of the boards handily. Phoenix pulled down twice as many offensive rebounds as LA, and the Suns out-rebounded the Lakers 45 to 35 overall. Along with battling on the boards, Phoenix's three point guards did damage. Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe combined for 61 points and consistently got into the painted area.
"All three of those guys are exceptional with the ball, creating shots for themselves, and they can create shots for their teammates," Scott said about the Suns' point guards. "It's tough to match up with them when they have all three of those guys in."
Were it not for the long ball, the Lakers would not have been close.
On the night, the Lakers shot 60.0 percent from behind the arc. Young started the game making his first four shots--all three-pointers. Johnson, Lin, Bryant and Ronnie Price combined for another eight makes to tie a season-high 12 three-pointers for the Lakers.
Lin had, arguably, his best game of the season with 19 points on 8-11 shooting. The backup point guard played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and made four of five shots down the stretch. Lin's lone miss, however, came at a bad time. Lin's three-point shot went in and out with about a minute and a half left to play. Had the shot dropped, the Lakers would have tied the game.
Instead, the ball popped out, and the Suns went down to the other end, used up clock, got an offensive rebound and scored a basket to make it a five-point lead with 49 seconds to play.
On the whole, Lin had a good game and led the team in scoring in the fourth quarter with nine points. He finished only two points shy of his season high.
"I can definitely build on this," Lin said afterward. "Tonight was definitely a big step in the right direction, but when you talk about reaching my full potential, there's still more that I can do."
In his first game back, Bryant did not announce his return by jacking up shots and ignoring teammates. He allowed his teammates to showcase their shot-making ability. In that sense, Bryant didn't forcibly lose the game for the Lakers down the stretch, but the Lakers' team did lose on the night.
"Kobe [Bryant] came back," Young said after the game."We all needed that. He was sharing the ball tonight."
With the loss, the Lakers fell to 9-22 on the season and next play in Denver on Tuesday night.