The emotions were certainly there. The buzz in the arena leading up to the long-anticipated return of Kobe Bryant was obvious. Similarly, so were the nerves. The miscues, the mistakes, and the lack of cohesion all reared their ugly heads. Storybook endings saw the Lakers pull out an emotion-filled win, but not even the Lakers could have a Hollywood ending on this night.
The moments of excellence were far overshadowed by the moments of inferiority. Toronto’s Amir Johnson torched the Lakers early and DeMar DeRozan buried them late as the Raptors dealt with every run and spurt, pulling away late for a 12-point victory, 106-94.
The storyline was always going to be about Bryant’s return, which turned out to be quite anti-climatic. He filled in as the facilitator, actively creating shots for his teammates with two assists quickly in the first quarter, one to Robert Sacre and one to Pau Gasol. But he struggled with his jumper and looked out-of-sync for most of the night, finishing with eight turnovers and shooting just 2 for 9 from the field. Quite simply, Bryant looked like someone who hadn’t played competitive basketball in eight months. But for (logical) Lakers fans, seeing him on the court was good enough, as signs of what is to come evident throughout the contest.
For the Raptors, Johnson was on fire early, pouring in 13 first-quarter points as the Raptors led by 10 going into the second frame. Johnson barely slowed down, adding 10 more points in the quarter, but the Lakers cut the lead down to four heading into the locker room despite lackluster performances from Bryant and Gasol.
In the blink of an eye, however, the Raptors opened the second half on a 6-0 run to stretch the lead to 10, even pushing it to 13 points a few minutes later. The Lakers showed how quickly they can turn a game around, going on a 10-0 run in 1:39 seconds of game time, cutting the lead from 14 to 72-68. But, as they did all night, Toronto answered that with a run of their own, scoring 7 of the next 9 points in the game, pushing the lead back to 9 points.
Los Angeles cut the lead once more to four points after a Xavier Henry three-pointer, but never could get closer, as the Raptors closed out the game without much resistance. Not even Bryant, who sat out the first-half of the final quarter, could save the Lakers this night. In fact, no Lakers starter broke double digits in scoring on the night, finishing with a combined 23 points on 8 for 32 shooting. As has been the case for most the season, the bench led the way with 71 points.
Pacing the way on the night was Nick Young, who finished with 19 points while grabbing 3 boards and dishing 3 assists. Henry had an efficient 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting in just 14 minutes of action. Jodie Meeks, who moved to the bench with Bryant’s return, added 14 points, while Jordan Hill added 11 and Shawne Williams scored 10 of his own.
Pau Gasol, who many thought would benefit most from Bryant’s return, was visibly hampered by a bum ankle, finishing just 3 for 11 from the field and scoring just 7 points. Still, Bryant, Gasol, and the rest of the Lakers squad have time to work out the kinks, with three more games this week, starting with Phoenix on Tuesday.