LOS ANGELES — Nearly eight months after Kobe Bryant limped off the Lakers’ home court with a torn Achilles tendon and a career in doubt, he struggled to keep his composure when he finally stepped back onto the same hardwood.
And though his comeback night didn’t quite go to script, Bryant couldn’t help reflecting on the work necessary to get back on that court — and all the months of steady labor ahead to reclaim his game.
Bryant had nine points and eight rebounds in his season debut, 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 got hurt April 12 and persevered through several months of rehabilitation to return for Los Angeles’ 20th game of the new season, only to struggle with his shot, his timing and his new teammates.
“My rhythm is completely out of sync,” Bryant said. “But this is a start, and I guess a start is good.”
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. Bryant was touched by the fans’ reception and his teammates’ encouragement, although his ruthless competitive nature chafed against his natural emotions before the opening tip.
“You try to control it as much as you can, but you can’t help thinking about the hard work,” Bryant said. “You try to put it to the side as much as possible and do your work. … It makes you appreciate the game, this franchise and this city, and all we’ve been through.”
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 today as the centerpiece of an apparent seven-player deal.
“(Bryant) was a little rusty, and you could tell because a lot of his shots were short,” said DeRozan, who grew up in Los Angeles watching Kobe.
CELTICS 114, KNICKS 73
NEW YORK — Jordan Crawford scored 23 points and Boston had the most-lopsided victory in the NBA this season, battering New York.
Jared Sullinger added 21 points for the Celtics, who jumped to leads of 12-0, 18-1 and 25-3 and improved their Atlantic Division-leading record to 10-12.
HEAT 110, PISTONS 95
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — LeBron James had 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, and Miami past Detroit, avenging a home loss to the Pistons less than a week ago.
Ray Allen added 18 points for the Heat, who were without Dwyane Wade but still shot 56 percent from the field and 11 of 28 from 3-point range.
THUNDER 118, PACERS 94
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant had 36 points and 10 rebounds and Oklahoma City turned a matchup of two of the NBA’s best teams into a blowout over Indiana.
Durant was 14 of 23 from the field and Oklahoma City shot a season-best 61 percent (47 of 77). Russell Westbrook finished with 26 points, Reggie Jackson had 15 and Serge Ibaka 13 for the Thunder.
Paul George scored 32 points for the Pacers (18-3).
ROCKETS 98, MAGIC 88
HOUSTON — Dwight Howard celebrated his 28th birthday in a big way, getting 20 points and 22 rebounds to lead Houston over Orlando.
James Harden scored 27 points and also had 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets. Terrence Jones added 16 points and 13 rebounds. Glenn Davis scored 18 points in Orlando’s fifth straight loss.
By wire sources