Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks off the court during halftime… (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images…)
The mess lay right there, and hardly any Laker seemed inclined to clean it up. Certainly not Andrew Bynum, who just sloppily lost the ball and walked back on defense. Certainly not Pau Gasol, who tepidly chased the loose ball and then jogged back slightly faster than his seven-foot teammate. So with Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried charging on the fast break, Kobe Bryant had no other choice than to fight through his intestinal flu symptoms and bail them out.
So as Faried leapt into the air for a fast-break dunk attempt, Bryant flailed out his arm in hopes of blocking the shot. The only problem: Bryant struck his head and Faried went crashing down with a loud thud. Bryant immediately went over to Faried, who lay motionless on the floor. Seconds later, Bryant helped lift Faried up and patted him on the head.
Hardly anything looked remotely pretty in the Lakers' 113-96 Game 6 loss Thursday to the Denver Nuggets. Bryant appeared incredibly frustrated that, fueled by four bags of intravenous fluids, he scored 31 points while his healthy teammates offered very little. Still, Bryant insisted his type-1 flagrant foul that he earned early in the third quarter didn't reflect his anger level boiling.
"I genuinely was trying to swipe at the ball," Bryant told reporters. "As the ball was going up, I was trying to get it before he elevated to get to the rim, to try to swipe it and knock it out of bounds. It's unfortunate I got him in the head. It definitely wasn't intentional — I was trying to make a play on the ball, and I'm just happy he was OK."
The damage was already done, though. Bryant rightfully earned a type-1 flagrant foul. The fans at Pepsi Center booed the Lakers' star louder than they normally do. And Faried sounded skeptical on whether Bryant simply tried going for the ball and the block.
"No," Faried told the Denver Post's Mark Kizla. "He was mad. Their team was frustrated."
The replay, however, shows Bryant didn't put a body on Faried at all. Lakers forward Matt Barnes actually tried that approach. Instead, Bryant reached his arm out from behind to block the ball. Because he remained a few steps behind, Bryant's arm missed the ball by a second and struck Faried along his head and shoulders. With Faried already in the air, that sent him crashing hard to the floor.
Simply put, the damage Bryant inflicted on Faried can be attributed more to the circumstances of the play than the actual intentions. That may not fit the neat storyline on how the Lakers fell apart in Game 6 and Bryant seethed over his teammates' failure to compete. Instead, it fits how Bryant's willingness to do his teammates' dirty work wasn't enough to create the outcome he wanted.