Lakers guard Kobe Bryant leaps to make a pass over Grizzlies guard Tony Allen… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The sold-out Staples Center crowd shouted Kobe Bryant's name. This time, however, the chants had nothing to do with Bryant hitting a game-winner, performing a spectacular play or recognizing him as the league MVP while at the free-throw line.
It had everything to do with the 18,997 fans wanting Coach Mike Brown to play him late in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' eventual 102-96 loss Sunday to the Memphis Grizzlies. Yet, there Bryant sat on the bench with 5:45 remaining in the game, shortly after the Lakers' star punched the bench in frustration during a timeout and then leaving the Lakers' huddle while coaches were diagramming a play.
When a reporter asked if it was correct to assume he was upset sitting out in four of the last six minutes of the fourth quarter, Bryant said " of course I was. That's an astute observation." But Bryant refused to criticize Brown.
"It's his decision to make. He's the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I'm not going to contribute to it," Bryant said. "I can't sit here and criticize his decisions. Leading this ball club, that's not something I can afford to do. I had his back the whole season. I can't start doing something crazy now. It would make no sense."
Meanwhile, Brown said three variances of "I just decided to make a sub" and offered little explanation on why he benched Bryant in favor of Metta World Peace.
"There was not one particular thing," Brown said. "I just made the sub, went with Metta, sat [Bryant] for a couple of minutes and tried to go back to him. But it didn't work."
Bryant had missed a 15-foot jumper and failed to get back on defense, which partly contributed to Zach Randolph making an open layup en route to a 14-point cushion. Bryant then approached the scorer's table minutes later, only to return to the bench with a towel draped over his head after realizing there would be a timeout with the next whistle. Brown then inserted Bryant back into the game with 1:51 left as the Lakers trailed by nine points.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum and guard Steve Blake declined to address how surprised they were with Bryant's benching, but point guard Ramon Sessions offered a theory.
"It was just one of those things where I think [Bryant] played the whole third quarter and some of the fourth," Sessions said. "So coach was trying to get his legs under him and it happened to be toward the end of the game."
Brown ususally rests Bryant to start the fourth quarter, but he's changed tactics in recent games. In the Lakers' 116-111 double-overtime victory two weeks ago over Memphis, Bryant logged 52 total minutes. That included playing the entire second half and two overtimes to help erase a 17-point deficit.
Bryant sounded sarcastic on whether he could play the entire fourth quarter Sunday against Memphis. "Yeah," he said. "I would have been exhausted."
It remains to be seen what, if anything, comes out of this episode. Brown, for one, said he "probably won't" discuss his reasoning on Bryant's benching to the Lakers' star.
"I treat him the same as everybody most of the time," Brown said. "Obviously he's a superstar and when you have a superstar, you try to give some leeway because they've been there and done that. If I make a sub for somebody, I don't always feel like I have to explain to them why I made a sub."