Even with a bum ankle, Kobe Bryant throws down his second dunk of Tuesday… (Harry How / Getty Images )
The Lakers may have been in bigger fixes than a 2-2 tie with the (theoretically) overmatched New Orleans Hornets, but here was something we hadn't seen before: Kobe Bryant, age 32, putting it all on the line on a badly sprained ankle … he hoped.
It could have been broken, but Bryant didn't know — or didn't want to know — which was why he nixed the medical staff's plan to have him get an MRI.
"Well, I was moving OK," said Bryant, after limping through a scoreless first quarter, then going on to lead Lakers scorers with 19 points in their 106-90 victory.
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"I didn't feel like it was broke or anything like that.
"If it was, it wouldn't have mattered anyway because I was going to play anyway.
"It would have been a waste of time -- go all the way up there [to a hospital] and do that and sit in 4 o'clock traffic for two hours.
Video: Lakers discuss their 106-90 victory over New Orleans
"I don't know why you guys [press] are so concerned about an MRI. It's not like we would have told you the results anyway."
Gee, no kidding.
All last season, Bryant hid the severity of a knee problem, which required off-season surgery. In Kobe Bryant style, he appeared to be trying to hide this too, insisting, "It was all right. I was a little stiff, but it loosened up.
"The first couple minutes, I was ready to go. The flow just moved toward Andrew [Bynum] and Pau [Gasol].
"I kinda sat back and allowed that to happen. In the second quarter, I got busy."
Actually, he sat so far back, he took no shots in the first quarter.
Also, the man he was trying to guard, Trevor Ariza, burned him for 10 fast points, at which point Coach Phil Jackson switched Ron Artest onto Ariza and Bryant onto the slower Marco Belinelli.
Jackson said his thought while watching Bryant in the first quarter was: "Better get him off the floor. He's a liability."
The liability's ankle did seem to "loosen up." In the second quarter, he seemed to will himself into the action, hitting one jumper and then, seeing an alley to the basket, launching himself into it, tomahawking a dunk over Emeka Okafor that broke the place up.
" Shannon Brown said you haven't dunked like that since you had an afro," someone said afterward.
"Yeah," said Bryant, "and he was like 2."
Bryant said his teammates "know I save those. I don't have much of those left anymore."
Well, he had at least one more.
In the third period, Bryant threw down another spectacular windmill dunk, this one left-handed.
By then, the Hornets, who came out on fire, taking an early nine-point lead, were through.
Under duress — a recitation of his misadventures in the first quarter with Jackson's "liability" assessment — Bryant acknowledged he really did start out limited.
"Yeah, it was stiff," he said. "I had a hard time moving and stuff like that.
"But you know, my ability's kinda strong."
Before coming to the press room, Bryant was seen heading to the shower with a noticeable limp. Forty-eight more hours of treatment, like the last 48, and he'll be as good as new. Or that will be his story, anyway.