Kobe Bryant makes season debut, but Lakers lose to Raptors
Kobe Bryant had nine points and eight rebounds in his season debut for the Lakers, but Amir Johnson scored a career-high 32 points in the trade-depleted Toronto Raptors’ 106-94 victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night.
Bryant began his 18th NBA season by going 2 for 9 with four assists and eight turnovers in 28 minutes. The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history hadn’t played since tearing his Achilles tendon in April, undergoing several months of rehabilitation to return for Los Angeles’ 20th game of the new season.
But the Lakers never led, and Toronto improbably snapped its five-game losing streak despite playing without forward Rudy Gay, who is expected to be traded to Sacramento on Monday as the centerpiece of an apparent seven-player deal.
Kyle Lowry had 23 points and eight assists, and DeMar DeRozan added 10 of his 26 points in the final 4:35 of the Raptors’ first road win over the Lakers in 11 tries since Dec. 28, 2001.
Nick Young scored 19 points for the Lakers, who went 10-9 without Bryant this season, forging a winning record without the five-time NBA champion and with little help from fellow injured MVP Steve Nash.
Adoring fans cheered Kobe’s every move and forgave every misstep, but Bryant couldn’t rally the Lakers late despite another huge game by Los Angeles’ reserves. Xavier Henry scored 17 points off the bench, and Jodie Meeks added 14.
The Raptors had 11 players available after holding out Gay, center Aaron Gray and forward Quincy Acy, all set to head to the Kings in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes.
That turned out to be plenty, thanks to two Los Angeles natives. Johnson, who attended nearby Westchester High School, went 14 for 17 and surpassed his previous career high early in the third quarter. Johnson didn’t take a shot in the fourth, but USC product DeRozan and Lowry held off the Lakers.
The 35-year-old Bryant hadn’t played since getting hurt in a home game against Golden State on April 12, making two free throws on a torn Achilles tendon before limping to the Staples Center locker room. He had immediate surgery, vowing to return close to full strength – and after working his way back into practices with the Lakers in the last few weeks, he pronounced himself ready.
The building had the buzz of a playoff game before the opening tip, with most fans in their seats with cameras trained on Bryant during opening warmups. The building erupted in loud applause at every mention of Kobe, who was introduced last in the starting lineup to the thunderous strains of ”The Imperial March” – Darth Vader’s theme from ”Star Wars.”
The crowd roared again the first time Bryant touched the ball, and he found Robert Sacre underneath the hoop for an assist on Los Angeles’ first possession. With his wife, Vanessa, and two daughters sitting courtside, Bryant hit a free throw for his first point in the second quarter, followed shortly by an 8-foot, double-pump, left-handed bank shot for his first field goal.
Bryant added a signature 22-foot face-up jumper later in the period, but also showed clear signs of rust and unfamiliarity with his new teammates.
NOTES: The officials allowed Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas to make two free throws out of a timeout late in the first quarter, but belatedly realized Lowry was supposed to take the shots. They wiped the two points off the board and put Lowry back at the line, where he made both shots anyway. … Terrence Ross banked in a 53-footer at the first-quarter buzzer to put Toronto up 30-20. … Dodgers slugger Yasiel Puig sat near courtside in a gold Bryant jersey. George Lopez and Mindy Kaling also attended the game.