INDIANAPOLIS — When Kobe Bryant couldn’t be the tough guy on the court Friday night, he resorted to being an MVP coach.
After hobbling around on a severely sprained left ankle for 12 minutes, Bryant retreated to the bench, where he spent the rest of the night contesting calls, waving teammates into the right spots and even drawing something up on a clipboard for Dwight Howard to see.
He wasn’t going to let up — or let his teammates down.
So on a night Bryant was held scoreless for only the 15th time in his 17-year NBA career, Howard finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and delivered a tiebreaking three-point play with 90 seconds left that sent the Los Angeles Lakers past Indiana, 99-93.
“It really just continued to swell and I couldn’t put any weight on it, so I called it a night,” Bryant said after getting more treatment on the sore ankle in the training room. “I told them before the game, ‘I don’t know how much I have, but whatever I have, I’ll give you.’”
He did plenty.
Bryant, known as a remarkably quick healer who hasn’t missed a game since the 2009-10 season, gallantly played less than 48 hours after turning his ankle when he landed on Dahntay Jones’ foot in the waning seconds of Wednesday’s loss at Atlanta.
For two days, Bryant worked in silent seclusion. He didn’t speak to reporters when the Lakers took Thursday off, after the team’s morning shootaround or before Friday night’s game started. Instead, he got round-the-clock treatment on what he described as the worst ankle sprain of his professional career.
Coach Mike D’Antoni watched closely as Bryant went through warm-ups, then spoke with the team’s medical staff and again with the five-time NBA champion before putting him in the starting lineup.
Clearly, Bryant was not himself. He went 0 for 4 from the field, coming up short on each shot, then went to the bench after one quarter and never returned to the game. He spent the second half clinging to a little black box with wires attached to the injured ankle.
But he remained active all night on the sideline. Bryant continually pulled players aside during the game, offering encouragement and advice and helping them read the Pacers’ vaunted defense.