I was sitting a few rows behind the Lakers' bench when Kobe caught the ball right in front of me with Manu defending early in the second quarter. In case you are unaware, Kobe is very good. I constantly found myself in awe of how he physically punished his defender. He always begins his move by slamming his body into the defender as he backs them down. Simply physical punishment. As if he is saying, 'I am stronger and better than you are' with each powerful blow. This specific possession, he hit Manu twice, faked left, then right, spun baseline and sank a bank shot fading away over Manu's outstretched arms. I just shook my head in disbelief. There was absolutely nothing Manu could have done differently to prevent that outcome.
A Lakers' fan sitting directly behind me sincerely stated, "Looks like it's going to be one of those nights." I could not help but agree. At this point in the game, the Spurs were outplaying the Lakers, but Kobe was keeping them close. It felt like one of those games where the Spurs would lead for 46 minutes, only to have Kobe take over the last 2 and give his team a chance to win it in the end.
But as Kobe landed, I saw a grimace of pain in his face. He somewhat struggled down the court as he massaged his lower back. I knew it, that move was too good. Not too good for Kobe five years ago, but too good for a 31 year old man with over 1,000 games on his NBA odometer. I told my father, who was sitting next to me, "Did you see that? Bryant tweaked something. He's hurting."
The rest of the second quarter, Kobe did not drive. Later, he went to the locker room so the trainer could work on his back. In the third, he looked in pain. At the end of the third, Phil Jackson called a timeout. Kobe trotted over to the bench, attempted to sit down, but could not. That was the last time I saw Kobe Bryant. He was done for the night.
Now, do not get me wrong. The Spurs played very well last night and I think they could have beat any team. When the Spurs play solid defensively and are hitting their outside shots, there's not much the opposition can do. But Kobe's injury definitely made the task easier on our Spurs.
I must admit, I felt bad for the Lakers and for Kobe. As a Spurs fan, I know how devastating injuries can be to a team's season; especially a reoccurring injury like one to the lower back or to an index finger that never properly healed. Last season, we lived that same reality with Manu. The Spurs were 32-12 when Manu played last season, 23-20 when he sat. He never was fully healthy and we witnessed an injured Spurs team limp into the playoffs and lose in the first round.
The game is unforgiving. To win it all, many things have to go your way; one of the most important is avoiding the injury bug. Basically, it's the organization and coach's job to assemble a team and put it in the best position possible to win it all. But once that is done, the rest is up to fate. So watching Kobe struggle to move and finally not even being able to sit-down, hit somewhat close to home for me. Let's hope that fate is on our side this year, (and not on theirs.)