Kobe Bryant pushed his fraying body and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates relentlessly through the second half of a vital game on Friday until he felt a searing pain in his left heel.
The team confirmed on Saturday that Bryant’s Achilles tendon is torn and that he’ll be out 6-9 months after undergoing surgery.
”I made a move that I’ve made a million times, and it just popped,” Bryant said solemnly while leaning on crutches in the Lakers’ locker room on Friday.
And though the Lakers held on to beat Golden State, the team now must continue its playoff chase without their leader.
Bryant scored 34 points while playing much of the second half in obvious pain with an injured left leg, eventually leaving with 3:06 to play in the Lakers’ 118-116 win over the Warriors on Friday night.
Bryant hyperextended his left knee early in the half, but didn’t come out while the Lakers chased a victory they needed to stay one game ahead of Utah for the eighth playoff spot in the West. Bryant said he hurt himself more seriously on a move he’s made countless times in his career while driving to the hoop.
He got the ball on the perimeter, stuck out his leg and pushed off his left foot to drive past Harrison Barnes. Bryant didn’t make it two steps before he fell to the court in obvious pain while Barnes was called for a foul, but Bryant stayed in the game long enough to hit his free throws before trainer Gary Vitti helped him to the locker room.
”I can’t walk,” Bryant said. ”I tried to maybe put pressure on my heel, but there was nothing there.”
An MRI exam on Saturday confirmed the torn Achilles.
Bryant called it the most disappointing injury of his career ”by far. We worked so hard to put ourselves in position and control our fate.”
When asked on Friday what the injury meant for his career, Bryant bristled at the suggestion it could finish him.
”I know I can do this,” said Bryant, who’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists. ”It’s fueling me. It’s fueling me. I can feel it already.”
The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history has been ferociously competitive down the stretch of the Lakers’ tumultuous season. While Pau Gasol and Steve Nash have missed long stretches of play with injuries, and while Dwight Howard struggled to get to full strength after last year’s back surgery, Bryant played through a sprained ankle and countless minor woes.
The 34-year-old Bryant has enormous mileage on his legs. The NBA’s No. 3 scorer this season has played more than 38 minutes per game, more than any teammate and more than any player in the league over 30.
”I’ve never had to deal with something like this,” he said. ”It is a new experience for me. Obviously, there have been a bunch of players that have had the same injury. All I can do is look at them, see what they’ve done, and see who had more success coming back quicker and healthier. See what they did, and try to improve on that.”
Twitter lit up with comments about Bryant’s injury. LeBron James lent support:
Damn man i feel bad for @kobebryant . If there’s anybody and i mean anybody who can come back from that injury it would be him! Best wishes!
After playing all 48 minutes while scoring 47 points in Portland on Wednesday, Bryant pushed the Lakers relentlessly forward on one good leg against the playoff-bound Warriors. Golden State got 47 points from Stephen Curry in a dynamic performance, but Bryant led a 9-0 run by hitting consecutive 3-pointers to tie it at 107 with 3:47 left.
Moments later, his season ended.
”I hate it for Kobe,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. ”I hate it for us. I hate it for L.A., but you have to close ranks. There’s no going back now. … He’s just an unbelievable player with a heart, and it is unbelievable.”
Bryant didn’t know whether his heavy workload contributed to the injury.
”Who knows? It was all necessary,” he said. ”It’s just a freak situation, I guess.”
Bryant said his teammates must ”just continue to play. We’ve been dealing with injuries all year. I’ll do what I can, watching film and preparing.”
His teammates improbably did just fine without him, with Gasol and Howard getting huge baskets in the final minutes while the Warriors wilted.
”I’m going to be there still,” Bryant said. ”I can’t be with them out there on the floor, but I can use my intellect to try to break down film and help them see things they might not see.”
Los Angeles (43-37) stayed one game ahead of Utah (42-38) for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference with two games to go. The Jazz hold the tiebreaker.
”He’s the greatest competitor, and he’s been that all season long, all through his career,” said Gasol, who had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in his sixth career triple-double. ”He’s been an example for us throughout all this. He showed character. He showed heart, and that’s what we’re going to need from now on.”
Howard added 28 points and seven rebounds, capping a competent 14-for-22 effort at the free throw line with one last point with 1.5 seconds left.
After Steve Blake hit the Lakers’ go-ahead free throws with 42 seconds left, Jarrett Jack made a turnover and Carl Landry missed an open jumper on the Warriors’ final two possessions. Howard clinched the Lakers’ 10th consecutive home win over Golden State.
The Lakers’ future is tied up in Bryant’s health even beyond his vaunted scoring and leadership: He will make nearly $30.5 million next season in the final year of his deal. Los Angeles’ uncertain offseason just got even weirder, with Howard’s impending unrestricted free agency still looming largest in the mix.
Curry scored 22 points in the first quarter and 32 in the first half in a barrage of outside shooting, but didn’t have a field goal in the final 7:19, managing just two free throws in the clutch. He fell one 3-pointer shy of Peja Stojakovic’s record 10 by a Lakers opponent.
Curry scored 54 points earlier this season in a loss at New York.
”That’s twice this year, so I’ve got to find a way to finish it, whatever it takes,” Curry said. ”We had good looks. That last play, Carl had a good look at it, and he makes that shot nine out of 10 times.”
Klay Thompson scored 25 points and David Lee added 19 for the Warriors.
Los Angeles began the day barely ahead of the Jazz for the eighth spot, but Utah has the tiebreaker and an easier schedule than the Lakers, who finish against three straight playoff teams. Los Angeles must finish a game ahead of the Jazz to make sure they won’t miss the playoffs for just the second time in Bryant’s 17 NBA seasons, even if Bryant can’t join them.
Curry finished the first quarter with 9-of-13 shooting and two assists, with no Lakers defenders able to keep up. Bryant went scoreless in the first, but heated up for 10 points in the first 3:10 of the second.
Despite Curry’s brilliance, the Warriors were even at 57 with the Lakers at halftime.
The Warriors played for the 49th time this season without center Andrew Bogut, who has a bone bruise in his sprained left ankle. The Australian big man had offseason microfracture surgery on the same ankle, and coach Mark Jackson wasn’t speculating how long the latest injury could keep him out.
Rookie Festus Ezeli took Bogut’s starting spot, getting four points and seven rebounds before fouling out.
NOTES: Nash missed his sixth straight game with a strained right hamstring. … The doctor who performed Bogut’s surgery will examine the results of Bogut’s MRI exam in the next few days. … Denzel Washington, Rick Fox, 50 Cent and Tenacious D members Jack Black and Kyle Gass watched near courtside.